Homilies by our Parish Deacon Peter McDade will be published here for the community to read and share. For more inspiration from Deacon Peter, click here to follow him on Facebook.
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade – 14th Sunday Of Ordinary Time (A) – 5 July 2020
Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalms 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-1; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30
“LIGHT & EASY” – NOT A BAD YOKE!
Today is the Fourteenth Sunday of the “Ordinary Time”. The Ordinary Time colour is green. Green vestments and altar cloths have traditionally been associated with the time after Pentecost, the period in which the Church founded by the risen Christ and spiritually “watered” by the Holy Spirit began to grow and to spread the Gospel to all nations. Just as our fields of green grow after the rain.
Today in Matthew’s Gospel extract, Jesus invites us, who are burdened and who labour hard, to accept His yoke for it is light and easy and will give us rest. A “yoke” is of course a crossbar or crosspiece of wood or other material that sits across the shoulders of the animal bearing it to pull or carry a load. The yoke itself can be quite heavy and uncomfortable. So just what is Jesus talking about? If we take on His yoke life will be all warm and fuzzy? Easy & restful?
THE YOKE OF LIFE
To say, “Life is difficult”, is an understatement. There are a privileged few who do have it easy – by design, denial, or otherwise. But for most of us, life is a struggle. And that doesn’t mean life is evil or bad – life is always good; it is a gift from God! But it is a struggle. And as we have heard over the last few weeks in our Gospel readings, Jesus warned and prepared His Apostles as to how hard they could expect things to get by being His disciples. Nevertheless, there are good times. But despite the best of the good times, we get thrown some serious challenges from time to time. Health; family & friends; social norms; expectations; financial stress; unemployment; relationships – are a few sources of challenge that we all experience from time to time and for some, consistently. The good times and the bad times are part of the yoke of life – the crossbeam that everyone bears just to stay alive. Whilst the good times tend to lighten the load, the bad times seem to exponentially increase the weight of it.
And so, for many of us, the bad times seem to outweigh the good times – and we struggle.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY!
Jesus knows this. He is fully aware of the human condition and how to celebrate the good times and how to bear the hard times. And He is excruciatingly aware of the suffering that awaits Him personally as we saw in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And so to hear Him say,
“Come to me all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light”
is surely a statement that should raise our eyebrows! He’s just told us how tough it’s going to be to be His disciple, even to the point of persecution and death – so His yoke is anything but easy and surely rates with the heaviest! And the cross, indeed the yoke He bore to Calvary was so heavy even He needed help to carry it!
So just what does He mean, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”? The good, the bad, the ugly of life don’t easily mix to be light and easy overall! And we know from experience that He is not promising to give us a smooth ride into Heaven!
LIFE WASN’T MEANT TO BE EASY!
“As Far as Thought Can Reach”, the fifth part of “Back to Methuselah”, a play written by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and published in 1921, contains a rather obtuse response to an outburst by another character about how hard life at that time already is, “Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful”. We all remember of course, former PM Malcolm Fraser infamously quoting the first part of this line to politically justify his tough stance on social security – as if difficulty in life is a given. Many interpret Shaw’s saying along the lines that despite the difficulties of life, if one takes courage, life can at the same time as not being easy, be beautiful. For instance, if one looks to the higher ideals or traditions of life, one can find beauty in the sunset that is not obvious while looking inwardly with self-pity or self-defeat at one’s navel or feet!
But Jesus also said that life wasn’t meant to be easy – just not in those words. In Matthew 7:13 Jesus directs us to enter life “by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it”.
So no, Jesus is not promising us an easy and light journey through life. Not at all. To expect such is a serious misinterpretation of His teaching overall. He is teaching us how to approach life – how to be strong in the face of adversity. How to remove the detriment of uncertainty and disillusionment in life by choosing His yoke and thereby responding to adversity with hope.
WHAT IS JESUS’ YOKE FOR US?
If one has the goal of becoming a world-class athlete and possibly even a gold medalist, one has to develop and enact a framework of learning technique, training, competing, overcoming adversity, and winning. But most of all, one must believe in the higher ideal that they can in fact win. That it is all worthwhile. I have a friend who was an Olympic athlete having competed in the 1964 Olympics and the 1970 Commonwealth Games. He was Australian National Athletics Champion over 100m in 1970 and 1971. So he is no slouch! I once asked him, what makes you think that you can win that race as you stand beside seven other world class athletes on the starting line. His answer stunned me – “It is 10% hard work but 90% self-belief”. They all have their idols – who they want to be like. But for all the champions, there are thousands who just want to be in the race – and they too have their champions/idols from whom they take inspiration and learn technique etc.
And so too it is with us as we endeavour to be the best disciples we can be. The essential ingredient in our discipleship is faith. But faith in what? We don’t all need to be champions of the race-winning elite – but we need to be in the race, not just a spectator, and to believe we can get to the finish line! And we still need to train hard and consistently. We need to be tough and resilient. We need to be like our idol, our Saviour! Like Jesus.
In our First Reading today (written about 500 years BCE), Zechariah talks of a Saviour to come who is meek and humble; who rides an ass, not a horse-drawn chariot; who is unarmed and poses no threat; who proclaims peace not war; and will rule from sea to sea. The description presents a vivid, poetic comparison or contrast between the leadership style of this promised Saviour and that of the pagan kings who had conquered and ruled Israel for so long. Indeed, it contradicts even our concept of leadership today. Paul, in writing to the Romans, exhorts us to focus on Christ’s spirit in this life lest we are condemned to live and die “by the flesh” – to live and die by our sinfulness. In other words, Paul exhorts us to be like Christ. Not to take our eyes off the higher prize.
Jesus’ yoke does exactly that. No matter what the challenge or pain experienced in this world is, by taking on the yoke, or even the cloak of Christ, we are called to see beyond the immediate; beyond the pain and suffering now. Without denying it but rather embracing it, to mix our experiences here and now with the grace and spirit of hope and joy – the essence of Christ’s yoke.
So as we receive Eucharist today, the food for our journey, the summit and source of our Christian life, pray with a thanksgiving heart that we can embrace the challenges of life and cloak them with the yoke of Christ. Help us to be strong and resilient at the same time humble and meek of heart.
Taking on the yoke of Christ is to become more like Him – to learn from Him and to find rest for our troubled souls. But we have to be like the champion athlete; like St Paul and the Apostles; we have to believe above all else that Christ is there with us through thick and thin. No. He doesn’t promise us an easy ride – but does promise us a smoother one leading to life for He is the way, the truth, and the life.
Jesus’ yoke is a metaphor for being His disciple and living His mores and values. “Come to me all you who are burdened; And I will give you rest”.
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade – 12th Sunday Of Ordinary Time (A) 21 June 2020
Readings: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Psalms 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33
BE PREPARED – BUT DON’T BE SCARED!
Today is the twelfth Sunday of the “Ordinary Time”. Ordinary Time is one of the six seasons in the Church’s liturgical calendar or year. In the liturgy of the post-Vatican II Roman Rite, “Ordinary Time” is that part of the Christian liturgical year outside of Advent, Christmastide, Lent, the Easter Triduum, and Eastertide. It is divided into two periods: that between Christmastide and Lent, and that between Eastertide and Advent. It is a time not just “ordinary” in meaning, like “That’s a bit ordinary, isn’t it?” Like, it’s not as important or it’s a time to back off and relax. It has absolutely nothing to do with that concept, as prevalent and mistaken as it is, but is in fact the exact opposite. It is the longest season in the Church’s calendar and its weeks (this year’s totalling 34 weeks) are “ordered” by being numbered. The Latin word “ordinalis”, which refers to numbers in a series, stems from the Latin word “ordo”, from which we get the English word “order”. Thus, the numbered weeks of Ordinary Time represent the ordered life of the Church—the period in which we live our lives neither in feasting (as in the Christmas and Easter seasons) or in more severe penance (as in Advent and Lent), but in watchfulness and expectation of the Second Coming of Christ. A time of learning.
Indeed, Liturgy Brisbane publishes a little booklet each year, this year called “Ordo 2020”, which sets out the full calendar for the Church’s liturgical year. Each season has its own colour. The Ordinary Time colour is green. Green vestments and altar cloths have traditionally been associated with the time after Pentecost, the period in which the Church founded by the risen Christ and spiritually “watered” by the Holy Spirit began to grow and to spread the Gospel to all nations. Just as our fields of green grow after the rain.
So after Pentecost Sunday, on Monday 01 June, Ordinary Time re-commenced watching and waiting from the 9th week leading to today beginning the 12th week. The previous two Sundays of this section of Ordinary Time have been Solemnities – The Most Holy Trinity, and Corpus Christi – leading us into a state of watchfulness and expectation for the next 23 weeks when the cycle will start all over again with the advent of Advent for Year B.
IT AIN’T GUNNA BE EASY!
We’re back in Matthew’s Gospel now, the Gospel selected for Year A, having heard extensively from John over the Easter season. In today’s reading Jesus is preparing His Apostles for their mission and that persecution and opposition will be part and parcel of being a disciple. As always, there is a risk with just taking excerpts from the Gospel in that the context and scene can be lost or at least confused by hearing a small snippet like today’s. Today we enter this Gospel scene in the middle of it. Jesus is giving His Twelve Apostles instructions for their first missionary journey. Letting them know just what to expect.
The most striking thing about these instructions is His repeated exhortation not to be afraid. In this passage, Jesus tells them three times not to be afraid – three times! He knows the human condition and He knows real fear. But why would they need to hear it? He is distinguishing between appropriate fear and inappropriate fear. Appropriate fear is that of falling out of faith with Christ – nothing is more fearsome than falling out of favour with Yahweh. Inappropriate fear is allowing fear of earthly sovereignties and authorities, of harm to our reputation and person, to govern our responses as His disciples. Inappropriate fear will lead to death and damnation.
Jesus knows His message is radical and will lead to political, religious, and even personal tension. It can be expected to come back on them because as they go out in Christ’s name to spread the Gospel in word and deed, they are going to run head on into these tensions. Jesus is warning them that they will meet up with persecution and hardship, just as He will, in a dramatic way, during His Passion.
He is warning them, as He is warning us today, that their Christian mission will demand heroic courage, perseverance, and fidelity as they constantly face suffering, calumny, mockery, and opposition, indeed even death – as they are confronted with false Gods and temporal satisfaction.They are going to run into people who will want to destroy them, humiliate them, and even kill them, just because they bear Christ’s name and are trying to spread Christ’s message.
In the verses immediately preceding this passage we just listened to, Jesus was explicit about missionaries being persecuted. Let me read a short extract – it illuminates His concern.
He told them:
“Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, as evidence to them and to gentiles…..Brother will betray brother to death and father his child; children will come forward against their parents and have them put to death” …”You will be universally hated on account of my name.” (Matt 10:17-19,21-22).
They are frightening words! And coming from the Messiah, the Saviour! They are to be taken seriously. Those same warnings apply to us too. We live in an increasingly pagan, sin-filled world/society. Our voice as the voice of contradiction is needed today more than ever. Being a Christian is not like joining a nice social football or golf club.
Then as now, there is an eternal spiritual battle going on in this fallen world. Self-gratification and greed seem to be paramount. Respect for human life is waning. Religion and faith is being internalised and privatised more and more, and worse still, scorned and ridiculed.
Whenever we are truly following Christ and building up his Kingdom, the powers of darkness, the devil and his minions, don’t like it, and they make it hard for us, just as they made it hard for the Apostles. I do not want to sound alarmist or preach fire and damnation, but we live in a particularly, increasingly pernicious world. We see in our world today, for instance, the ever-increasing emergence, mostly with sovereign endorsement, of horrendous evils such as abortion on demand for any reason; even infanticide if a baby survives an abortion attempt; voluntary assisted dying; euthanasia; divorce on demand; capital punishment; systemic and persistent denial of truths by political leaders – even Catholic ones who should know better! Not to mention the plethora of scourges such as domestic violence; substance abuse; and racial vilification in all their forms. Of course, there is much good in the world – but it won’t sustain the onslaught of these evils unless we as the voices of Christian contradiction in our secular world stand up and are counted.
AND HIS WORDS WERE TRUE!
St Paul also understood persecution and that it comes from a state of sinfulness. Paul goes all the way back to the sin of Adam and Eve which led to death until redeemed from death by Jesus. He indeed was a particularly vicious and persistent persecutor of the Christians as we all know, himself a Pharisee, part of the sovereign establishment. So it’s no surprise to hear him saying in one of his most famous passages in his Letter to the Ephesians, (6:10-13)
“For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the Sovereignties and the Powers who originate the darkness in this world, the spiritual army of evil.”
The history of the Church proves that this battle is real, not just symbolic, starting with the Apostles themselves. Every one of Jesus’ first Apostles died a martyr’s death – except St John the Evangelist, who miraculously survived being boiled in oil.
1. Peter was crucified upside down in Rome.
2. James the Greater was beheaded in Jerusalem.
3. Andrew was crucified on a cross in the shape of an X.
4. Bartholomew was skinned alive and crucified in Armenia.
5. Philip was stoned and then crucified in Turkey.
6. Thomas was speared to death in India.
7. James the Lesser was hurled from the city walls of Jerusalem and beaten to death with stones and clubs.
8. Jude was shot to death by arrows, in Persia, while tied to a cross.
9. Matthew was burned to death in Afghanistan [Note: the mode and exact location of his martyrdom are disputed by historians, but not the fact.]
10. Simon the Zealot was sawed to pieces in the Kingdom of Georgia.
And St Paul, whose method of death is uncertain, is believed to have been beheaded in Rome. These are our older brothers in the faith. They teach us that being a Christian is demanding; it takes courage; it stirs up opposition. They followed in Christ’s footsteps, and blazed the trail for us to do the same – just as many have done since through the millennia. Hopefully we in Australia will not face a similar fate but we can certainly expect strident opposition to Christ’s message in today’s morally twisted world.
BE NOT AFRAID
Jesus wants us to know that following Him is demanding. But He is no pessimist. And neither does He expect that we should do it alone. He gives us grace and strength through the Holy Spirit, through the Sacraments of the Church, and through you as brothers and sisters in worship united in baptism to be his disciples in the world. He talks to us through the Word and gives us food for strength in the Eucharist to sustain us on the journey.
As mentioned earlier, He tells his Apostles three times – three times in just seven verses – not to be afraid. These are not just idle words of comfort; they are God’s words. They are more than an exhortation – a commandment! As long as we stay united to Him, grounded in His friendship, we are assured of meaning, purpose, and everlasting joy – no matter how hard our pilgrimage through time may get.
St Paul understood this well. As he said in today’s Second Reading, even though sin, evil, and suffering weigh upon us all, Christ’s grace is infinitely more powerful:
“For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”
Jeremiah in the First Reading understood it well too. After listing his horrible sufferings, he shouts out a cheer of confidence in God:
“But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.”
The Lord is our champion too. He proved it first when He rose from the dead. He has proven it thousands of times since, in the lives of the saints – those who have been faithful to His friendship. And He proves it every day right here on the altar, in the sacrifice of the Eucharist. As we receive Eucharist today, pray earnestly that we will respond to our challenges with grace and honesty – but always as Christ’s disciple.
Jesus will never abandon us. He wants to be our strength as we fight each day to be faithful soldiers of His Kingdom. Today, let’s promise Him that this week, whenever we feel the cold breath of fear behind us, we will call out to Him in prayer, giving Him the chance to show His stuff.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Talk with Him each day as we journey through this extraordinary Ordinary Time, a time of learning, of great expectations and hope! A time of patience and courage.
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade – SOLEMNITY: Trinity Sunday (A) – 7 June 2020
Readings: Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9; Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; Second Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18
In the Name of the Father…
We all know the “Sign of the Cross”. As we trace the Cross, Christ’s deathbed, on ourselves, forehead, chest, and shoulders, we name the Blessed Trinity; “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!” That’s it. It’s in our DNA – Catholics and other Christians alike know it well. We do it instinctively. Christians have been signing themselves since the first century, initially on the forehead only. Over time it evolved into the practice we have today. We say it and sign ourselves often – and often without giving a second thought as to what we are saying or doing. When we enter a Church or chapel; when we commence and/or finish prayers; when we prepare to proclaim/receive the Gospel; when we receive Eucharist we do it. Indeed, some of us might simply “do it” because it “seems the right thing to do”. Some of us might even do it for possibly inappropriate reasons – like entering a boxing ring; or facing a pace bowler; or winning a race, a form of plea or thanks for good luck. But of course, it is much more than that.
So, what does the sign of the Cross really mean? Where did it come from and why do we invoke it so often?
What is the Sign of the Cross?
The Sign of the Cross of itself is a uniquely profound prayer, blessing, and sacramental practised by Christians from about the middle of the first century knowing that our God is three distinct persons in one God, the Blessed Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Jesus taught His Apostles, if you know me you know my Father. It is through Jesus’ life death and resurrection that we are able to know God more intimately. And so we humbly mark our bodies, the temples of the Holy Spirit and created in the image of God, as a sign of our love for God with all our mind and all our heart and all our soul accepting the indispensable role that Jesus played in our salvation – by dying on a cross. So powerful a sign, St John Vianney, the Patron Saint of Priests, said that a genuinely made Sign of the Cross “makes all hell tremble.”
Revealed to us in the Christian Testament, by Jesus Himself, the triune nature of God is divine revelation. Theologians argue it is not the product of human imagination. God is a mystery. We can never claim to fully know or understand God, especially as the Blessed Trinity. In theology classes, one of the tenets they teach is that if you claim to know or understand God, then the God you claim to know or understand is not God! God is infinite and beyond human capacity to fully know or understand. And in the strictest sense, that is so. But that doesn’t mean we can never receive some insight into God’s nature and character. And as concrete limited human beings we need some basic understanding of what we believe in.
The Trinitarian articles of faith enshrined in the ancient Nicene Creed say it all. The first two articles of the Creed were first espoused at the First Council of Nicaea in Turkey in 325 and refined at the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381 (to include the third article of belief in the Holy Spirit). And they are:
1. I believe in one God, the Father almighty. Creator of heaven and earth;
2. I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, only begotten Son of God;
3. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver if Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
There we have the Blessed Trinity proclaimed in the Nicene Creed, the fundamental prayer of the Church since the fourth century. Derived essentially through rejecting major heresies about the nature of God, the Creed states the fundamental Christian dogma on the nature of God. These words are not new to us. We state them every time we say the Creed at Mass, as we will again today.
In the early church, Jesus’ divinity and humanity were contentious. Jesus is the Word made flesh, a human personification of God the Father, the Creator. A true image of God, although not complete. The Catechism of the Catholic Church at Para 467 cites the fourth ecumenical council of Chalcedon in 451 which confessed that Jesus is:
• The same, perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity;
• The same, truly God and truly man composed of rational soul and body;
• Consubstantial with the Father as to His divinity; and consubstantial with us as to His humanity; and
• like us in all things except sin.
Scripture tells us, recalled in many Gospel readings this Easter, that Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus. So, in the person of Jesus, we have a valid but incomplete image of God. As just outlined, a basic dogma of our faith is that Jesus is fully divine and fully human.
Our God is a God of Revelation
Sometimes we can try too hard to understand or gain an insight into a mystery. And the increasing frustration can be a blockage to allowing our minds and hearts to remain open.
Not long ago, I was doing the washing at home and put 5 pairs of black socks into the machine – 10 socks (for all you mathematicians). When I went to hang the washing out, there were only 9 socks! I went back to the machine – no sock; I retraced my steps – no sock; I looked inside the sheets that were washed – no sock! I looked in all the pockets – no sock. It was a mystery! Where did that sock go? No matter where I looked, I couldn’t find the elusive sock. Conclusion? The machine must have gobbled it up and discharged it with the water. Incredible, I know – but that was the only rational explanation I could come up with. The sock had disappeared.
No matter how hard I looked it evaded me. I could not see it. I could not explain it. I could not understand it. I gave up.
Then, about a week later, I was doing some ironing and put one of my wife’s jackets on the ironing board when around one of the shoulder pads, voila! there it was entwined with it. Both black. Couldn’t see it til then.
It taught me that sometimes we will gain insights into understanding something mysterious when we least expect it; when we are not thinking about it or running around bumping our gums; but rather when we are quiet and listening or being alert. And so too it seems to me that when we are challenged by the mysteries of faith, we might receive insights into understanding them if we remain quiet, alert, open, and just listen.
And so too it is with the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. There have been many attempts by great thinkers to explain it. St Patrick famously used the Irish shamrock with its three leaves in one plant to explain it. But St Irenaeus, one of the early Church Fathers, provides an exquisite example in his teachings about the Blessed Trinity. In his treatise “Against the Heresies”, he deftly knits the role of the Father as Creator, His incarnated Son as saviour/redeemer, and the Spirit as perpetual grace for us in the world – all working together seamlessly to bring about the symphony of Christian love for all time. Whilst we don’t fully understand it, it just makes sense.
Each time we bless ourselves, we acknowledge the Blessed Trinity; each time we recite the Creed, we acknowledge the Blessed Trinity; each time we baptise someone, we baptise them in the name of the Blessed Trinity. God the Father, Creator of all things sent His only begotten Son, Jesus to redeem the world who together with the Father sent the Holy Spirit to teach, guide and encourage all people to receive the gift of salvation or redemption (the “dew from heaven” as St Irenaeus puts it). We don’t need to understand something to believe it or in it. Our partners in life, our children and friends – we never get to fully understand them. But we believe in them because we know them and love them. So too with the Blessed Trinity, our God.
In the coming week, do not worry about not understanding the Blessed Trinity. But be open to receiving insights in your personal relationship with God – into God’s love for you and into your own nature. As Jesus would say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. But, in Paul’s words, let “the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you”.
Let the Blessed Trinity come to you and comfort you as you prayerfully say and/or reflect on the meaning of:
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”!
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade – SOLEMNITY: Pentecost Sunday (A) – 31 May 2020
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Psalms 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; First Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
Pentecost Sunday, a Solemnity within the Church’s liturgical calendar, is a high-point of Jesus’ post-resurrection graces, where His promise to be present with us to the end of the ages is fulfilled. It announces the sending and arrival of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, by the Father and the Son as revealed by Jesus prior to His death and resurrection and confirmed as the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. Sent to embolden, teach, guide and encourage Jesus’ Apostles and His disciples down through the ages, it marks the beginning of the Church as we know it, in effect, the birthday of the “…one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” Church.
It replaces the Festival of Shavou’ot in the Jewish tradition. “Shavou’ot” means “weeks” in Hebrew. It is celebrated seven weeks following the second day of Passover, and constitutes an historical, national, agricultural and spiritual extension of Passover. While Passover highlights the physical liberty from slavery, Shavou’ot highlights the spiritual liberty to embrace the values of the Ten Commandments and the Torah, in preparation for the liberation of the Land of Israel .
In the Christian faith, Jesus’ last supper with His disciples, His death on the cross and resurrection three days later is the new Passover – the doorway to salvation – what we celebrate today as “the Triduum” of Easter. And Pentecost, celebrated seven weeks after Easter Sunday, is the new Shavou’ot. The word “Pentecost” is derived from the Greek word “pentekostē” meaning fifty. It was on this day, seven days after Jesus ascended into heaven, and seven weeks after He rose from the dead, that the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and Jesus’ Mother, Mary, and some others.
On an aside, it is interesting to note that the shape of the bishop’s mitre (the pointed hat he wears at Mass and other liturgies) emulates that of a tongue of fire. The bishop is a source of spiritual unity within the Church and is responsible for teaching the Faith; governing the diocese; and sanctifying the people of God. He is the physical symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit within the diocese. He holds the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders (ordination) which is then shared by the priests and deacons within the diocese to teach and nurture the faith of the people of God.
What is “Pentecost” to Us?
Interesting question, isn’t it? “What is Pentecost to us?” How often during the year other than on Pentecost Sunday are we consciously aware of Pentecost? Of the presence and influence of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives? For many, one could guess, it is a one-off celebration/memorial seven days after the Ascension. It reminds us of when the Apostles were emboldened to fearlessly proclaim the Good News and who subsequently, each and every one of them, went to their deaths for doing so. What a transformation it was! That was some two thousand years ago. But we still celebrate it today.
All of that is true. But for us today, Pentecost is a salutary reminder that we have the Spirit, the Advocate, the Gift present here with us today and “…to the end of the ages” as promised by Jesus.
Why Do We Celebrate it?
According to John’s Gospel today, Jesus breathed on His disciples gifting them the Holy Spirit and constituting the sacrament of Confirmation: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained”. In John’s Gospel, the Spirit came in a breath from Jesus, a quiet moment on the day of His resurrection. In the First Reading from Acts today, the Holy Spirit came in a rush of violent wind with tongues of fire settling above those present. The Spirit can work in both ways. But whatever the case, it is important to acknowledge that the gift of the Spirit was given by Christ to the group gathered – His church, if you like. It was not just given to Peter, or Mary, or any one single Apostle/person. It was first given to the group as a whole. Each member of course received the Spirit if they were open to it. So, from the very beginning, the Spirit is with the Church first and foremost; with the individuals within and committed to the Church; and in and with the world through the Church.
Having established first the sacrament of Himself as Eucharist at the last supper, upon which is based our Mass today, the very next sacrament Jesus instituted was reconciliation. Jesus commanded His disciples at the last supper to “…do this in memory of me” and then delegated to them after His resurrection the authority to forgive or retain sins through the sacrament of Reconciliation. As we heard last Sunday from Matthew, just prior to His ascension, Jesus commissioned His disciples to baptise as Christians all nations using His Trinitarian formula, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.
So, we can see that Jesus Himself established the sacraments of Christian Baptism, Eucharist, and Reconciliation, and Confirmation. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and founded in Scripture, the Church identified and subsequently established the remaining sacraments of Marriage, Holy Orders, and the Last Rites.
Consistent with the whole Easter story, the coming of the Holy Spirit was a cataclysmic event in the life of the Church and continues so today. To see the effect of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church over time and bringing it back to its mission in the world, one only has to look at the survival and recovery of the Church through some horrible periods and events in the last 2000 years or so – corruption at the top; warlike activities; gross inquisitions; clerical scandals; misguided missionary pursuits; the list goes on. And through it all the Holy Spirit works with true disciples (often to their own demise) to bring the Church, the People of God, back to full communion with the Word. Once back in union with the mission Christ gave His Church, it does wondrous good things, which far outweigh the worst of the worst that have occurred. Its work in public health, education, legislation, social structures and norms, assistance for the poor, and celebration over the last 2000 years is truly something to be proud of. Understanding and living the joy of the Gospel in a self-sacrificing manner is a truly wondrous work of the Holy Spirit.
What Does It Mean for Us?
Each time we bless ourselves, we acknowledge the Blessed Trinity; each time we recite the Creed, we acknowledge the Blessed Trinity; each time we baptise someone, we baptise them in the name of the Blessed Trinity. God the Father, Creator of all things send His only begotten Son, Jesus to redeem the world who together with the Father sent the Holy Spirit to teach, guide and encourage all people to receive the gift of salvation or redemption.
At Baptism we are received into the life of the Holy Spirit and the Church. In Confirmation the gift of the Holy Spirit is sealed within us. In Reconciliation we are brought back into full communion with the Holy Spirit and the Christ’s community, the Church. In Eucharist we are fed with the Word and the Body & Blood of Jesus to sustain our Baptismal calling. In Marriage our love before God is affirmed as we make our vows and place the ring on each other’s finger invoking the Blessed Trinity. In Holy Orders a man is commissioned to proclaim the Word and is sealed again with the Holy Spirit. In the Last Rites, when the soul is prepared for new life in heaven through Reconciliation, Anointing (Extreme Unction) and Viaticum (Eucharist).
The Holy Spirit therefore is like the spiritual lifeblood of the Church and also for us as individual disciples. But we have to be open to receive its transformative powers.
As we pray in the Gospel Acclamation today:
“Come Holy Spirit – fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle in them the fire of your love.”
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade – SOLEMNITY Ascension Sunday – 24 May 2020
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Psalms 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20
Today is Ascension Sunday, the Seventh Sunday of the Easter Season designated as a Solemnity by the Church in Australia. It precedes Pentecost Sunday next week which is also a Solemnity. “Solemnity” feast days are attributed the highest level of liturgical celebration afforded by the Church in its liturgical life cycle. To emphasise the importance of the event being celebrated, Ritual and Funeral Masses are prohibited on the day. Ascension Day commenced as a celebration around 68CE and is celebrated on the 39th day after Easter Sunday, or the 40th day of the Easter season and it marks the official end of the Easter Season.
In many European countries such as Germany, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway et al, it is a public holiday; likewise in Indonesia and Vanuatu, amongst others. But in Australia, the USA, UK, and Canada, it is not. It is celebrated on the Sunday following the 40th day of the Easter Season (which this year was Thursday 21st just gone). The Sunday is designated Ascension Sunday (in place of the Seventh Sunday of Easter). It is on the 40th Day of Easter that Jesus took His disciples to the Mt of Olives where they witnessed His ascension into heaven.
Today is also the actual feast day for Our Lady Help of Christians, often referred to as Mary Help of Christians, the Patroness of Australia since 1844. St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney is named in her honour. It is also a Solemnity but because it coincides with the Ascension Solemnity today, the celebration of Our Lady Help of Christians is moved to tomorrow, Monday 25th as listed in the “Ordo 2020: the Celebration of Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours in Australia & New Zealand”. Two solemnities are not usually celebrated on the same day.
Returning then to Ascension Sunday.
Why Did Jesus Leave?
For forty days, Jesus walked the earth with His disciples teaching, guiding, and encouraging them for what was to come. One wonders, why didn’t He just stick around? Surely, if Jesus were to reappear to many, many people the impact would have been decisive! People could see for themselves that God is real; that Jesus had saved them from their sinfulness and gifted them eternal salvation. What more could they want? What more could God want? The world would be a happier place; there’d be no sin or evil; churches would be filled with smiling grateful faces. There’d be no poverty. There’d be no crime. Everything would be honky dory.
It is possible that this could have been on the disciples’ minds as they journeyed with Jesus after His resurrection. They had seen and been reassured by experiencing His resurrection and His many visits thereafter. They could feel the change or “metanoia” in themselves having come from doubters after His crucifixion to believers after His resurrection. Having come from cowering in fear in locked rooms to emboldened believers in the open.
Of course, Jesus would have been acutely aware of all options, including remaining on earth indefinitely, available to His Father for showing His salvific love for all people. But Jesus remaining on earth forever, is not an option that can be seriously considered. If it were to be like that, there would be no need for faith/doubt – no need for free will; we would not be free to choose to love God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; we would no longer be living the human condition as created by God because all of that would have been obliterated by God just determining that we can no longer choose salvation. It would be pre-determined that we will go to heaven because we had no choice otherwise. “Pre-determination” (that we can have no say in whether we can freely accept or reject the gift of salvation) is a fundamental heresy which the Church has vehemently opposed down through the centuries.
So that’s why Jesus didn’t or couldn’t stay bodily present in the world. That’s why He had to ascend into His Father’s house “which has many rooms”. But did He stay here on earth in any way, as He promised He would? Well, yes, He did and is still present today.
How Did Jesus Stay?
We move from John’s Gospel last week where Jesus promised not to leave us orphans but that He would come to us; to Matthew’s Gospel this week where Jesus tells His disciples that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to Him and then commands His disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations. And that He will be with us til “the end of the ages”.
Then He ascends into heaven.
It must have been like another kick in the guts for the disciples. A form of bereavement if you like. Having just suffered the gut-wrenching fear and realisation of Jesus’ humiliating death on a cross, a death they did not expect of their Messiah (despite being told it would be so by the Messiah Himself), they were excited and relieved to experience His resurrection as real. Thomas took some convincing but despite the Jewish teaching of the time (that souls could wander the “underworld” as spirit or ghost until they found rest), he too came around. Then after interacting with Jesus Himself over the next forty days, to lose Him again must have been challenging, if not yet again terrifying. After all, they were mere humans, committed but flawed and weak. To them, they had just lost for the last time, their Saviour. They could no longer see or feel Him but had to trust that He would come to them.
Jesus’ promise to be with them always to the end of the ages, was no idle promise. He was preparing them and us for the existence of Christ’s mystical body on earth. Jesus would be present in the world til the end of the ages as a mystical but real body – a physical presence – starting with the disciples as the originating microcosm of the Church and continuing with us as members of that same global Church today. We are now Christ’s heart, hands, feet, mouthpiece, and source of love by baptising all people who seek it in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and proclaiming His Gospel as He commanded. His mystical body, even though guided by the Holy Spirit, is not perfect and never will be. It is church of and for sinners! Next week we will hear more about the coming of the Holy Spirit but in the meantime, fear rules supreme again for the disciples.
What’s So Important About Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven?
The Mystery of the Incarnation, God becoming human, is exactly that – a mystery that we can never fully understand. Indeed, we are never meant to understand it for we can never fully understand the mystery of God. The Hebrews believed and taught that God is so unknowable that there is no name that can be attributed to God. The name often used in the Hebrew Testament is “Yahwey” which is a rough translation of Hebrew word “YHWH” – an unpronounceable word or at least considered to be too holy to pronounce. In theology studies it is contended that God is “unknowable”. The instant you say or think, “I know God” then the God you “know” is not God. You can’t claim or capture God in any sense.
But Jesus is God personified – that’s the truth of the mystery of the incarnation. That is a fundamental tenet of our Christian faith – Jesus is divine. As Paul says, if the resurrection were not true, our faith has nothing, we are lost (1 Cor 15:14-15). Through Jesus and His resurrection, we have a small but true glimpse of the real God. Through Jesus, we are able to have with at least scriptural support, some insight into the nature and personage of God. So, we look for signposts of Jesus’ divinity through His life death and resurrection. Those signposts include:
• His birth by the Virgin Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit;
• The miracles He performed, and words uttered indicating they were performed by Him as divine, not merely a channel of God;
• Bringing Lazarus back to life through His own effort, not calling on God to do it;
• Jesus’ forgiveness of sins – He forgave the sin, not calling on God to forgive them;
• His resurrection in accordance with God the Father’s will.
Post resurrection, Jesus’ ascension is an emphatic sign of His divinity. In contrast, Mary, His mother, was assumed bodily into Heaven – we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption on 15 August. She was assumed into Heaven by God. She was a human, not possessing the power of the Infinite. Only God could assume her into heaven. She could not do it of her own accord. We believe Mary is the only person ever assumed into heaven given her special role in life as the Mother of God and her humble, unwavering commitment to God’s will for her in life.
Jesus ascends into heaven before the Apostles’ eyes. He is not assumed into heaven like Mary was, but ascends Himself, of His own accord, into heaven. This is a huge and emphatic statement about Jesus’ divine nature. It is the final seal on the divinity of Jesus in that He dies, resurrects, and then returns to the Father in heaven – from whence He came.
The fact that the ascension’s recognition and celebration began so soon, only 30 or so years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, attests to the importance of the event. And it is important because it is witnessed evidence of Jesus’ divinity in ascending to heaven of His own will and power. And so today we celebrate it as one of the Solemnities of the Church’s liturgical calendar.
What Does It Mean for Us?
In the First Reading today from Acts, Luke refers to his first works, his Gospel, where his description of Christ’s Ascension takes place immediately after Jesus appeared to His Apostles for forty days, showed them His wounds, and ate with them in order to assure them that He was no mere ghost. Luke wants to make sure that we have the right idea about the Ascension, even though we can never understand it completely.
It really happened. Christ’s body and soul taken up into heaven. Jesus is in heaven now, body, blood, soul, and divinity. It was not an ethereal dissipation into some shadowy realm of vague symbols.
No. The Ascension is the establishment of Christ’s Kingship and His Kingdom on absolutely unshakeable ground. Christ’s reign will never come to an end. He is no longer vulnerable. Because He has ascended into heaven, His Kingdom is firm; His Church will never be destroyed.
As St Paul put it in the Second Reading, God made Christ the everlasting King, “raising him from the dead and seating him at His right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named”. If we stay faithful to this King, our victory over sin, evil, and injustice (and the happiness that such a victory implies) is assured.
Christ’s ascension should fill us with joy, as it did His disciples, because now we know for certain that the Christian cause is unassailable, that Christ’s lordship is unconquerable.
We are required to do whatever we are commanded to by Christ to ensure His mystical body on earth is assumed into heaven at the end of the ages. His greatest command as we discussed last week is to love one and other as He loved us and to be obedient to His commandments.
So, let’s not let our hearts be troubled and brace ourselves for the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives.
Our Lady Help of Christians, Pray for us.
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade for the sixth Sunday Of Easter (A) – I Will Come to You – 17 May 2020
Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Psalms 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20; First Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21
Today is the sixth Sunday of the Easter Season. Jesus is preparing His Apostles for His departure and assuring them they will not be alone in the work He has commissioned them to do. In two weeks’ time, Pentecost Sunday will end the Easter season and herald in a new Ordinary Time (liturgical colour green).
The Jump Cut
In film editing, there is a technique known as the “jump cut”. It effectively transitions the subject of the film between two time slots, going forward or backward, in an instant. There is no time progression in between frames – it jumps from one scene straight to the next one. Well, our Gospel Readings over the last few weeks have been a bit like that, except we are jumping back in time. On the first three Sundays of Easter, Easter Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, and the Third Sunday of Easter we had post-resurrection readings from John (Jesus appears in Jerusalem a week apart) and from Luke (Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus). Then on the Fourth Sunday we jumped back to pre-crucifixion with John and the Good Shepherd narrative, and last week, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, we heard about His Father’s house with many rooms, “I am the way, the truth and the life”.
This week we go back again with John’s Gospel. It takes place at the Last Supper where Jesus is preparing His Apostles for what is to come and reassuring them, they will not be alone.
The reason the Church makes these apparent “jump cuts” is that most of Jesus’ teaching on what needed to be done after His death and resurrection, occurred prior to His death. So post-Easter we initially reflect on and pray readings affirming His resurrection and then His teachings are revisited as to what now needs to be done by the Apostles as His disciples.
John’s Gospel is Unique
As mentioned, this week’s reading is from the Gospel of St John. John’s Gospel is noticeably different from the other three Gospels by Mark, Matthew, & Luke, known as the “Synoptic Gospels”. They are called “synoptic” because they are brief summaries and/or descriptions of the events and teachings of the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although not universally, they demonstrate substantial commonality in their narratives. John’s Gospel is different. Whilst it does not contradict the Synoptic Gospels, it has five main central differences, namely:
1. It is more concerned with the significance of the events of Jesus’ life and of all that He said and did than mere description;
2. It is more focussed on knowledge and understanding of Christ as Divine Saviour, the Messiah;
3. It is more focussed on worship and sacraments and adapts Jewish feasts and liturgies into a uniquely Christian interpretation;
4. It is almost entirely focussed on Jesus as the Word or Logos made flesh – the Mystery of the Incarnation dominates and permeates the whole of John’s thought; and
5. The Cross is not just an instrument of torture and death. It is that of course, but it is also the elevation of Jesus, lifted up to the Father in Heaven – to return from whence He came.
John’s Gospel is often described as a theological treatise and expands the theology of the Synoptic Gospels given it was the last Gospel written, around 90CE. These comments are not in any way intended as criticisms of the Synoptic Gospels but simply an attempt to highlight the differences between them and John’s Gospel. Together, all four Gospels constitute the symphony of the temporal and divine life of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
Do Not Let Your Hearts be Troubled
Some of us, if not most, do not understand the real threat of COVID-19. We need to be advised, educated, and guided by experts on what to do and how to behave in order to cope with it and survive let alone thrive. We cannot see it and most of us have not experienced it, so we take some convincing about just how nasty it is. But even as that advice washes over us, some of us still fail to grip the reality of it and therefore dismiss or ignore its threat. But once hit with the reality of it, shock and fear can take hold and retreat is the order of the day. But if we are able to believe the experts, we are reassured and encouraged to survive the threat.
Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading, like the virus experts of today, is advising, educating, and guiding His disciples on the shocking reality of what is about to hit – His death and resurrection. And in no uncertain terms, He is preparing us for that reality, and what they and we must do in order to be devout disciples. But do we believe Him?
Jesus’ discourse today is a small part of the longest discourse in John’s Gospel. It is a superb instruction or lesson from Jesus Himself showing His love and concern for His followers recognising their ignorance and fear. Not only instructional, but inspirational with guarantees of His presence and strength for all time, it goes for four chapters (14, 15, 16 & 17) culminating in the Prayer of Jesus (Ch. 17), after which His passion and crucifixion become reality – in two short chapters. John illustrates Jesus’ focus on preparing His disciples rather than on the events leading up to His passion and death. For John, the climax is Jesus’ death on the Cross raising Him up to the Father as prophesied in the Hebrew Testament.
I Will Come To You
Throughout all the Gospels, but particularly in John’s Gospel, Jesus is acutely aware of our humanity. He knows His disciples have given their all to follow him. He knows they are human and are struggling psychologically, emotionally, and faith-wise with the impending doom – Jesus’ death and their own impending persecution. But most of all they were probably very fearful of whether or not they had made the right decision to follow Jesus in the first place and Jesus knew that.
At the beginning of this discourse, He says to them “Do not let your hearts be troubled” – He knows they are afraid.
Christ’s constant refrain is: if you love me, you will keep my commandment. That refrain complements His great commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34), the commandment of Christian charity. And so it is no surprise that His parting words to his closest disciples, the last flow of love from His Sacred Heart before it is broken and pierced, are “If you love me, you will keep commandments”. And His promise – “I will come to you. I will not leave you orphans”.
They are special words. We need to hear them; to let them sink in.
Jesus knows that these twelve men are normal, fallen human beings. They are weak and ignorant, stubborn, and headstrong. And yet, despite all their flaws, He also knows that they truly love him. They want to be His disciples. They are just like us: flawed but committed.
He earnestly desires to teach them how to live out their commitment to him, and so He gives them His new commandment: “If you love me, you will keep commandments”. In other words, “Be obedient to my commandments”. To keep His commandments is the hallmark of a Christian, a true follower of Jesus Christ. They’re not pretty words, or fancy rituals, or complicated prayers. It is in following the example of Christ, who gave His life for us on the cross.
To give our lives, leaving behind our comfort zones in order to help our neighbours and build a better world; to be truthful, responsible, honest, pure, and faithful even when it feels like we’re being crucified; that’s how we follow Christ.
This is the path to loving him and thus having life and living life to the full. It was the path He taught His Apostles; it’s the path He teaches us; and it’s the path He blazed for us by His life, passion, death, and resurrection.
A Simple Rule: Loving Christ by Speaking Well of Others
A small but hugely significant way we can show our love for Jesus by loving our neighbours is being more sensitive to how we speak of others.
When we look at our lives to see how we have been living out Christ’s greatest commandments, the ones Christ cares most about, “Love one another as I have loved you” and “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” what do we see?
At first glance, it seems like we are doing pretty well. In general, we are fairly kind and polite people. Most of us don’t go out of our way to harm others. And many of us pray often and go to church as often as we can. Basically, we are good people. And that is to be acknowledged and commended. Christ did the same!
But how deep does it really go?
A closer look shows plenty of room for improvement, especially in our words. Our society loves to talk about other people’s failings. Our news and entertainment industries are built on scandal and detraction and indeed in sensationalising it. Just take a look at the news on YouTube from the USA and see how vitriolic their criticisms of public figures and even rival news broadcasters is. And it is evident in Australia too.
Is that loving one another as Christ loved us? Jesus was full of mercy and compassion, more eager to forgive people’s failings than to broadcast them. How well do we do that? Remember your Mum or Dad who used to say, “If you can’t say something nice about a person, say nothing at all”. A simple rule and true to a degree – but Christian virtue would expect that we do say something nice, especially if others are in a feeding frenzy of denigration.
But if and when we gloat over others’ failings, and share them around gleefully, we are doing the exact opposite to loving Christ.
In the Gospel today, Christ goes out of His way to lift up His disciples and reassure them they can do the job at hand. He promises to be with them and continue giving them hope and guidance through the Holy Spirit if they remain open to receiving it. But they have to remain committed to obeying His commandments. Christ thinks well of us too. Christ speaks well of us, promising us the Holy Spirit as well. He knows the good we can do even before we do. But we too have to be obedient, in all we do.
We can always control what we say about others, for the love of Jesus. This week, let’s show Jesus our love for Him by speaking well of others, just as He spoke well of His enemies on the cross, when He prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Find something nice to say about someone and say it to them. If we make an effort to love Him in this way, He will help us.
And if we persevere in our obedience to Him, He will, as He promised, come to us and not leave us orphans. He will reward us.
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade for the fifth Sunday Of Easter (A) – My Father’s House – 10 May 2020
Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Psalms 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19; First Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12
Today’s readings focus our attention on strength, trust, and discipleship – as has been the case for all of our readings for this Easter season. Today, however, the readings are vividly connected (which is not always necessarily the case). The First Reading recognises the need for appropriate serving at tables to look after the people’s immediate needs – hospitality. The Second Reading recognises the need to be grounded in strength and stability in service and knowledge – the mission. In the Gospel, Jesus’ farewell speech to the Apostles, challenges us to choose Jesus or the world. There is no in-between. What is astounding through it all, and most encouraging for us today is the obvious and unequivocal blindness, doubt and fear shown by Jesus’ Apostles – even after He appears to them as the resurrected Messiah. But what it also consistently amplifies is the message “Believe in Jesus our God and get ready”. The image of solidity and safety is predominant along with Christ’s re-emphasised message, “Do not be afraid. Come to the Father through Me”.
The Magnificent Seven
Even at the very beginning of the Church, in the first parish, so to speak, we see that there are disagreements among believers. Humanity at large. The Greek-speaking believers (the Hellenists) complain about being treated as second-class Christians. By inference, their widows were being neglected but the Hebrews’ were not. For the Apostles, the first pastors, the immediate physical, emotional, and other needs of the people present become paramount. They need to resolve it, and fast!
The selection of “seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom”, the Magnificent Seven, is seen as a way to do so. They call them forward, with Stephen, the first martyr for Christ, first up. The Apostles prayed over them and laid hands on them. A liturgy believed to be the first ordination of deacons. These men would attend to the worldly needs of the followers while the Apostles focused on proclaiming the Good News. It may be the first, but certainly not the last time deacons will be called upon to sort things out!
Our faith in Christ doesn’t make us perfect right away, just as it didn’t make the first Christians perfect right away. Spiritual growth is a life-long process. The first Christians had to work through conflicts and selfish tendencies; so do we all.
The reading deftly illuminates the need for people of faith to have different but equally important roles to fulfill in their Christian communities. In 2015, Pope Francis described the Catholic Church as an inverted pyramid with the People of God at the top, being served by the religious, who are supported by the priests & permanent deacons, then guided by the bishops, cardinals, & the Pope. At the pointed base, is the Pope, “The Servant of the Servants of God”.
In today’s reading, the Apostles serve the people of God by ordaining others to look after their immediate needs, still serving the same people. It worked! Discipleship in Jerusalem increased greatly and “even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith”. But importantly, all in the pyramid are disciples of Christ through their baptism. Hospitality is essential to discipleship. But all have different roles to play.
How Strong Is My Base?
In the Second Reading from the First Letter of St Peter, he likens Christ to a “living stone” – the embodiment of strength and reliability to withstand any headwinds or other damaging forces – enabling those who embrace it to themselves become living stones in a spiritual house. A stone precious in the eyes of God but rejected by the small minds of humans. A living stone that becomes the cornerstone of His spiritual house to protect His holy people, His holy priesthood, enabling them to offer sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ.
Peter goes on to warn that failing to recognise and commit to Jesus as our Saviour will lead to stumbles by disobeying the word, “…as is their destiny”. Not an idle threat, but a glaring warning to be ignored at our peril. Jesus raises us up as a chosen race, a royal priesthood – we just have to accept it.
How Big is My House?
Today’s Gospel reading from John is a well-known passage used very often at funerals. “My Father’s house has many rooms” is a catchphrase that everyone recognises. Its significance cannot be overstated. Like many of you, when we grew up, we did not live in a big house with many rooms. Rented, it had some rooms of course but you could bet each bedroom was occupied by two or more kids. Mum & Dad could have also had a third occupant in theirs too, a new-born baby. When we saw or visited a big house with individual rooms for the kids, it was a jaw-dropping experience. Of course, today’s standard of housing has improved quite a bit with smaller families and usually a separate bedroom each. But large extravagant houses are still not the norm for “commoners” like us.
For first century Jews, however, it was even more contrasting. The “commoners’” houses usually consisted of one room only for the whole family, and they all lived happily on one hard mud floor & they would raise the family, & sleep through the night in this one room. The only people who had big houses with many rooms were royal occupants of palaces. So Jesus, in order to illustrate the extravagance that God the Father wants to lavish on believers, proclaims that they will be welcomed into His Father’s house “which has many rooms”. Not just many rooms, though. But separate rooms especially prepared for each one of us! The contrast could not have been more obvious or eye-boggling to first-century Jews.
Whilst Jesus’ and the Father’s love for us is effusive and all-encompassing, Jesus’ message is far more profound and challenging than the mere promise of extravagance. This farewell discourse by Jesus, the focus of today’s Gospel reading, is the longest speech by Jesus in John’s Gospel. It is in effect, His Last Will and Testament before He returns to the Father. Jesus is passing on to the Apostles His will that they carry on His work. He is setting the foundations, the rock-solid foundations on which His disciples are to build His church. They need a strategic plan – a guide for the terrifying and daunting endeavour they are about to begin – bringing salvation to a pagan, hostile, and terrified world.
There are several earth-shattering claims that Jesus makes as He is about to return to the Father. He’s not going to leave His Apostles all alone – He will send the Holy Spirit to teach, guide, and uplift them. And we need all the help we can get into today’s secular world. Christianity throughout the world today is the most persecuted religion. And this is becoming more and more obvious, as many of the foundational moral ramparts of our society are being torn down by secular advocacy. As they do so, the Church is demonised as being out-of-date, bigoted, unpastoral, and even immoral. These are the inevitable outcomes of what Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI calls “moral relativism” – if I feel good and do not hurt anyone else, it is OK (a rather limited definition of “relativism”, I agree, but true, nevertheless). So how do we navigate our way through this morass, this decadence of today’s throw-away world?
Who Ya Gunna Call?
Jesus is the source of eternal and inexhaustible hope and we have Jesus on our side! It is the culmination of Jesus’ claim to His divinity. Jesus IS GOD. Before He went back to the Father, Jesus:
• Told Thomas that He is the way, the truth, and the life;
• Expressed surprise at, even impatience with Philip’s ignorance of just who Jesus is, especially after having been with Jesus for so long. Jesus is in the Father and the Father is on Him. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father.
• Commissioned anyone who believes in Him to do His work – to an even greater extent than He has.
Jesus is saying unequivocally “You’re either with me or against me!” And this is where our strategic plan, the way ahead for discipleship, is handed down to the Apostles and through the ages to us. Jesus didn’t say “Hey. I think I have found the best way to get to know God the Father”. No! He said, “I am THE WAY!” Just as last week He said He was the gate for the sheep. No one can get to the Father except through Him. Neither did He say, “I will teach you how to discover the truth”. No! He said, “I am THE TRUTH!” Anything else, unless grounded in recognising the omnipotence of Jesus in it, is not the truth. He did not say He has found a great new life that we can aspire to. No! He said, “I am THE LIFE!” Nothing lives without Jesus in it.
These are extraordinary revelations! No other religious figure, leader, or pagan God ever claimed to be human and divine. It is unique. No founder of any religion, other than Christianity, has ever claimed to be God. The mystery of the incarnation is unique to Christianity. Of course, we know from history that some mad people claimed to be God – take the Kings of England; & other crackpots like Jim Jones etc. But Jesus is no madman.
Jesus’ demands leave no wriggle room. They are categorical statements, black & white – they are either true or false. No in between. Jesus is either who He claims tom be or He is a fraud. In today’s world of moral relativism, it might be convenient, even easy, to see Jesus as just another interesting mystic, or prophet, or philosopher. It might be, but it would not be the Christian Faith. Jesus is the icon of the invisible church. He lifts us up to do greater things than He did. For the last two millennia we have carried on Jesus’ works and deeds through the global Church’s many active and generous ministries at the parish level. We support them prayerfully and financially. The human condition has generally improved as a result of that ministry – through improved social & legal structures, health, education, and assistance to the poor. As we have seen in our own lifetime, it hasn’t always been perfect. It is a church of sinners for sinners and the Holy Spirit never deserts it but guides it through thick & thin, as it is today.
So, who ya gunna call? Jesus of course. Remember how we used to lean on the fence and chat with our neighbour? Well, go down to your back fence, lean on it, look up to the clouds and say, “Gidday, Jesus. You are the way, the truth and the life and I want to come to the Father through you with the help of the Holy Spirit.” He’ll be there waiting and will respond.
If we unequivocally believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and that no-one can come to the Father except through Him, we will commit to doing His works – we have no option. We will want to get to know him intimately by listening to His word. We will share in His priesthood and will fulfill our individual roles within our Christian community with gusto, grace, and honour. We will build up our spiritual house in Grovely, Samford and Mitchelton or wherever we are through good works, prayer, and liturgy.
And we will continue to grow as Jesus’ chosen race. His priestly people.
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade for the fourth Sunday Of Easter – Good Shepherd (A) – 3 May 2020
Readings: Acts 2:14, 36-41; Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; First Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10
Vocation? Do I Have One?
Today is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday but it is also the 57th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. When anyone mentions “vocations”, we as traditional Catholics tend to think of priestly vocations, religious brothers and sisters, monks etc. And they certainly are vocations and we need more of them. No-one can deny that. But of recent times, there seems to be a growing awareness of the true nature of vocation being embedded in sacramental Baptism and applying to the everyday life of all baptised disciples of Jesus Christ. So, for the moment, let’s put aside that oft-expressed self-deprecating exclamation that “Vocations are for the Holy ones among us who want to be priests or religious”.
What is a vocation?
Pope Francis, in his message “Words of Vocation” for today’s world prayer says in part, “Every vocation is born of that gaze of love with which the Lord came to meet us, perhaps even at a time when our boat was being battered by the storm. Vocation, more than our own choice, is a response to the Lord’s unmerited call. We will succeed in discovering and embracing our vocation once we open our hearts in gratitude and perceive the passage of God in our lives.” The profundity, economy, and eloquence of these words cannot be overstated. They are sublime.
It is probably fair to say that any vocation, whether religious, clerical, or secular is an overwhelming commitment to a way of life. When one chooses a vocation, one voluntarily subscribes to the ethos, pathos, and morality of their choice, their way of life – even in times of great challenge, not just in times of great reward. It becomes the driving spirit of their existence, their reason to live. Discipleship is our primordial vocation. It drives what we do and amplifies our way of life no matter what we choose to do.
The “Lord’s unmerited call”, emanating from that “gaze of love” He has for us, is first heard at our baptism, the starting point of conversion to a new way of life either as an infant or an adult. A call to live and love Christian ethos, pathos, and morality. It is a profound call to discipleship of Jesus Christ by Jesus Himself, the Good Shepherd. It is “unmerited” because we do nothing to earn that merit and can do nothing to earn it to be a disciple of Christ, and so we become capable of perceiving God in our lives only through the grace of Christ.
Why is Baptism Important?
In our First Reading today from Acts, Peter exhorts those listening to him to “… repent and be baptised … in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Repent from what? From sin, of course. But what sin does an infant commit before they have reached the age of reason? None – of course. But we are all born with original sin – or the propensity to commit sin stemming from original sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Para 390). Through baptism, Jesus raises us above original sin into a new life guided by the Holy Spirit. It raises us to a life of discipleship in Jesus – a way of life, a vocation. Whilst Peter was referring to a specific sin of his audience, what he says applies directly to us today in baptism.
Consequently, the Sacrament of Baptism is the primordial sacrament of the Church – ahead of Reconciliation, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Ordination, & the Last Rites because without it one cannot receive or partake of any of the others. In our faith community, both infants and adults are baptised – as infants at their parents’ request and as adults after personal and communal discernment, usually at the Easter Vigil.
It is through Baptism that we are invited to become disciples of Jesus. It is a lifelong source of grace and mercy from God the Father & the Son through the Holy Spirit that aids and guides us on our way through life. But it is the vocation of parenting that brings this about in most if not all cases. As parents, we are called to be disciples to our families, friends, colleagues and strangers.
How Do I Live as a Disciple?
In today’s Second Reading from the First Letter of St Peter, and consistent with what we have prayed and reflected on over this Easter Season, sacrifice is central to the Christian vocation. “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God”. In married life, of course, there are many times we are called as parents or partners to sacrifice “for doing what is good”. When our children go astray and we have to stay the course with trust and patience, we suffer. When our partner has been hurtful, to forgive is to sacrifice part of ourselves for what is good, we suffer. When we place our children’s development, health, and education and accept the costs thereof above our desire for a nice holiday or even house, we sacrifice ourselves and suffer for what is good – the establishment, maintenance, and development of a loving home.
Peter goes on to give more examples of discipleship for us as set by Jesus Himself:
• When insulted, He did not return the insult; and
• When He suffered, He did not threaten;
• He surrendered Himself “…to the One who judges justly”.
As parents, there are many instances of these things happening to us, sometimes on a daily basis. Do we silently bear the suffering and difficulties of our families remaining, or at least trying to remain, faithful to our calling as baptised people of God – disciples of Jesus Christ? This is the core of living a vocation, whatever we may choose to do in life.
Who is the Good Shepherd?
In today’s Gospel Reading from John, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus calls Himself “the gate for the sheep” through which His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. It is a metaphor that is probably lost on some today in our largely urbanised way of life. But for Jesus, the relationship between a shepherd and his flock is so intimate, that it is analogous to His relationship with us. The sheep follow because they know & trust that voice. They know intuitively and from experience that it loves them by willing and doing good for them and taking care of them. They follow in trust. But Jesus warns that anyone who purports to get into the sheepfold by other means “is a thief and a robber” – for there is only one way in, in response to Jesus’ call. He calls us as His baptised disciples, His sheep. Do we recognise and trust His voice?
As parents, we are the good shepherds of our families. Our vocation is to love and care for our family members. Our children, particularly as littlies, know and cherish our voice and follow eagerly. Likewise, we know theirs. So too it should be in our relationship with God – we are but babies and turn to Abba Father for all our needs. Until we understand and accept this relationship, we cannot be a Disciple, baptised or otherwise!
Parents – Good Shepherds for Family
Like Baptism, parenting is primordial – a vocation to be honoured and treasured. So is the vocation of the single person, the ordained, and religious. They are all levelled with each other through discipleship made possible through baptism. Our Christian vocation gives us purpose in life and is our way of living. It is Jesus’ raison d’etre that you “Have life and have it more abundantly”. And that is the joy of living and celebrating the Christian Gospel – to have life and enjoy it to the full.
In this day and age of diminishing numbers of vocations to the consecrated state of priest and religious, parenting is resuming its prestigious place in the hierarchy of “vocation”. Without diminishing in any way the importance of consecrated leaders, such as bishops, priests, deacons, & religious, parenting is sometimes taken for granted. But at infant baptism, parents are recognised as the “first teachers of your child in the ways of faith”. They are exhorted to “be the best of teachers in what you say and do”. What can be more important than that – than to be the Good Shepherd for Christ of your precious ones?
On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, let us not forget the first vocation we all have to discipleship. Let us pray for more focussed and increased commitment to living out our vocation as unmerited disciples of Jesus Christ, particularly as parents.
Go! You Good News people! Celebrate your vocation!
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade for the third Sunday Of Easter (A) 26 April 2020
Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-28; Psalms 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; First Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35
The Pattern of Discipleship
Luke’s Gospel, from which we hear today, has three main themes throughout it on discipleship – journeying; faith as seeing; and hospitality. It could be better described as the pattern of discipleship. Patterns are essential in all walks of life for us to better understand ourselves, our friends, and the world generally. It is true also of our understanding of Jesus and our discipleship of Him. The story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus contains all three essential elements – journey, faith, and hospitality. They are on a journey to Emmaus; they eventually see the risen Christ through the eyes of faith after they have shown hospitality to a stranger. They come to recognise the pattern of Christ’s mission through his life, death, and resurrection.
Where Am I Going To & Why?
Today’s Gospel is probably one of the most profound & eloquent passages of all the Gospels. So profound & eloquent, it appears several times throughout the liturgical year. It has everything for the modern-day disciple to ponder. Where am I going? and why there? Am I going the right way? To whom should I listen? How do I see Jesus in my everyday life? How does the Mass help me? How can I better see and understand the pattern of Christian discipleship?
Last week, we heard from John’s Gospel the story of St Thomas which occurred about a week after the first appearance of Jesus to the Apostles hidden away in an “upper room” in Jerusalem. His first appearance was on the day of His resurrection. Now we jump back again to that first day of His resurrection – this time in Luke’s Gospel – where Jesus joins two of His disciples as they are walking desolate along the road to Emmaus. No-one knows where the town Emmaus was. Modern scholars have suggested various possibilities, such as Nicopolis (about 20 miles from Jerusalem), others say Qubeibeh (about 8 miles from Jerusalem), and one even suggests it might have been a Roman garrison town settled by the Roman army. It is a mystery of antiquity. But the main point is that it was not in Jerusalem. So where are they going?
For Luke, everything focuses on Jerusalem as the city of the Cross, the city of salvific love and these disciples are going the wrong way! They are going in the wrong direction – they are going away from Jerusalem. They are leaving the one place where they can find salvation – Jerusalem. Jesus’ whole life and mission has been summed up in the cross – the pattern of His salvific love including His passion and death on the cross – is there for all to see. And they just don’t get it.
They don’t see the pattern.
They are running away from it! So, like He does with Thomas in John’s Gospel, Jesus seeks them out and joins them on their way, befriending and walking with them; quizzing them “What were you talking about?” They stop and answer Him without recognising Him. Ironically, they answer, “You must be the only visitor in Jerusalem not to know what has just happened there!” Visitor? Really? They had no idea to whom they were speaking. And they proceed to tell Jesus what happened. Ironically, Jesus is the ONE person who fully understands what happened in Jerusalem! Indeed they themselves had no idea of the reality that occurred before their eyes. They just did not get it. They didn’t see the pattern.
We are meant to identify with these two disciples. Good faith-filled people but going the wrong way in life! Blinded like them by our doubt, fear, and sinfulness. They are conversing with Jesus – just as we do in prayer. Do we really know with whom we are conversing? Do we hear the words of Christ’s teaching like they do but still not really hear? Are we sure we are on the right road? How hard do we try to “get it”? How hard do we try to see Christ’s pattern of salvific love?
To Whom Should I Listen?
Cleopas and his travelling companion (who most assume is a male but could be a female), relate the incident of His resurrection to Jesus. They know all the details. So do we! And from Jesus’ response He seems astounded that they still do not see the truth or recognise Him! “Oh how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe that the Christ should suffer…”. How obvious does He have to make His pattern of love to us? Jesus then relates to them the faith-filled stories of the Hebrew Testament from Moses and the prophets to Himself as the Christ. They know all the details. And they still do not get it! Their lack of faith blinded them to the reality of what was before their very eyes. But at least they are conversing with Jesus – in effect praying with Him.
Just listening to Jesus inspired them immensely – as it does for us too. Whilst not recognising Him, they wanted Him to stay with them. At their invitation, He stays with them. Hospitality.
Where is Jesus in my Life?
It’s probably fair to say that Jesus’ resurrected body was in some way strange. Nobody recognised it. Not Mary Magdalen; not Peter or the Disciple Jesus loved; not even the rest of the Apostles when He first appeared to them. The first-century Jews believed that the soul could wander around the netherworld as a spirit til it found rest. This was behind Thomas’ desire for proof that Jesus was really, humanly raised from the dead – that the risen Jesus was not just some ghost or figment of a terrified imagination. And Jesus knows how difficult it is for finite people to believe in such fantastic realities hence His final and possibly greatest beatitude, which we heard last week “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believed”.
So it is no surprise that the disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognise Jesus – even after He broke open the scripture to them. But it set their hearts on fire and they wanted more. They were moving ever so slowly, journeying to a fuller realisation of the reality of the resurrection. But just hearing the word wasn’t enough. Their journey as disciples of Christ was taking them to faith.
And so it is often with us. Our lack of faith blocks out our ability to integrate our faith into how we live. How do we see Jesus present in our everyday lives? As disciples of Jesus, our journey from doubt to faith can also be agonisingly slow. We can see what is right in front of us, but sometimes we just don’t get it. We just don’t see the pattern. But the way of a fool is always right in their eye; the way of the wise listens to advice.
This very point of recognising Jesus in our everyday experiences is central to the Awareness Examen in Ignatian spirituality practised by the Jesuits. Each day, try to spend a couple of minutes reviewing your day and focus on some event (could be minor, could be major) and spend some effort in recognising the presence of Jesus in that moment/event. As we do that faithfully each day, the expectation or hope is that we will recognise Christ’s presence then and there in future events. There is a bit more it than just that but hopefully you get the idea.
Jesus is present in all we do. We need to allow Jesus to reveal Himself to us as He did with Thomas and Cleopas and his friend.
How Does the Mass Help?
Back on the road to Emmaus, Jesus stays and has a meal with them. By now they have heard a lot from Jesus and yet they still do not recognise Him. But when He took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them, their eyes are opened and they recognise Jesus. They had seen the cross and were smashed by it, overcome with doubt and fear; they had seen Jesus but had not recognised Him; they heard a lengthy catechesis from Jesus which set their hearts burning with desire; and they recognised Him eventually at the breaking of the bread.
The Mass is essentially two sacred liturgies – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And in Emmaus, Jesus teaches them the word and gives them consecrated bread. It wasn’t just the breaking of the bread, as some might claim, that allowed them to see with eyes of faith, but the whole pattern of Christ’s revelation. Having seen the relationship between the Hebrew Testament and Jesus’ mission, their own life experience, and recent events, they recognised that the path of God is a path of suffering love. Love will always include suffering, self-denial. It cannot exist without sacrifice.
They were starting to see the pattern of God’s love. As mentioned earlier, patterns are essential in all walks of life to understanding ourselves, our friends, the world, and Jesus. It is essential for our understanding of Jesus, His life death and resurrection. So the pattern of the Mass emulates the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We are heading in the wrong direction – Mass turns us around to receive and act on that burning desire the disciples felt on hearing Jesus’ word and receiving the graces of the consecrated bread. They were so inspired they immediately got up and went back to Jerusalem in the dark of the night! Their pathway in life had been enlightened by Christ. They no longer feared. They no longer doubted.
Pray Without Fear
These two disciples gave up on Christ because of the cross. But Jesus comes to their rescue. He walks along with them (the journey), talking to them about the Scriptures, the promises and revelations found in God’s Word (faith as seeing). He shares bread with them (hospitality).
We too face the temptation of fear and discouragement when crosses come into our lives. What will prevent us from abandoning our Lord and our hope when we feel the weight of the Cross? What will help us as we walk away from our Jerusalem? The same thing that rescued these two sad disciples: conversation with Christ – prayer and receiving Eucharist.
Prayer is the source of light and strength for the Christian. The Mass is the summit and source of our Christian life.
When we take time to unburden our minds to the Lord, and to read and reflect on the Scriptures, maybe with the help of spiritual books, we give Jesus a chance to explain things to our hearts. When we give thanks by receiving Eucharist we open ourselves to the saving grace of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice.
If we walk through life with him, victory over evil and unhappiness is assured. As Christians we can pray, persevere, and find hope even amidst tears and terrible darkness, such as our current war against viruses or others (remembering ANZC Day) because we know that Christ’s victory will be ours, if we stay by his side.
In our virtual Mass today, when we receive Jesus spiritually in Holy Communion, let’s thank our Lord for the great gift of his friendship, and let’s promise that we will never again try to walk through life alone. Then we will see the life-giving pattern of discipleship in Jesus and head back to our Jerusalem.
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade for the second Sunday Of Easter (Divine Mercy) (A) – 19 April 2020
Readings: Acts 2:42-47; Psalms 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; First Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Peace be With You! Reconcile With Jesus
A week ago, the 1.3 billion Catholics throughout the world gazed with wonder and gratitude on the Resurrection of our Lord. We united at home with a few friends and/or family and most probably tuned into an online live transmission of the Mass, from our local parish, our diocesan cathedral, or even the Vatican. We united spiritually. For many, if not the vast majority, it was the first time we had to deliberately and poignantly acknowledge our spiritual union, not just with the Risen Christ, but with each other.
There is not much to rejoice about in the dreaded and dreadful COVID-19 restrictions imposed on us, but this is certainly one of them. People are talking about and actively sharing their experiences of that event – how joyful and yet how painful it was – to actually feel spiritually connected without the physical presence of loved ones and friends, but indeed to be consciously aware of Catholics throughout the world. This is a taste not just of resurrection, but of redemption here and now. We are saved as a people of God.
In 2000, Pope St John Paul II established this second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday as a universal feast of the Church. It recognises that forgiveness is not just a once-off occurrence but that we have a lifelong need for it. It recognises the infinite and ongoing mercy shown us by our Christ as we live our lives relentlessly in sinfulness.
“Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain they are retained”. With these words, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is instituted by Christ on the day of His resurrection some 2000 years ago. It is a source of Christ’s infinite mercy, the means of our redemption. A mercy we celebrate and embrace with humility today, Divine Mercy Sunday.
And then he looks into the eyes of his Apostles, breathes on them, and gives them the power and task to forgive sins in his name. As just mentioned, this was the start of the sacrament of reconciliation, which ever since has been bringing us back into the Saviour’s merciful care.
My Lord and My God
The Apostles, a week after Easter Sunday, were gathered once again in the upper room, still trembling with fear – frightened for their own safety and survival. If the Romans and Jewish authorities could do what they did to Jesus, it took little imagination as to what they could and would do to His followers. They had been shattered by Jesus’ death. They fundamentally didn’t believe that Jesus would rise from the dead – but He had joined them once already and now they were confused, if not still frightened.
Despite the locked doors behind which they trembled and hid, Jesus appears to them, once again, in the glory of his resurrected body, effortlessly passing through their locked doors and their hidden fears. They could not keep Him out, and neither can we. He is with us in all our good times and our challenges (even bad times). Knowing their weakness and fear, He comes to them and His greeting, “Peace be with You” on both occasions is both consoling and challenging. It reassures us that Jesus is in charge – nothing on earth can stop Him from being with us and supporting us in faith (consolation). It is also challenging because if we had sufficient faith, we would not be afraid.
But, true to form, the first thing He does is go after the one lost sheep whose heart is astray. Thomas was a discerning disciple. He wasn’t going to be caught up in any emotional clap trap that he suspected might have been going on. He wanted, maybe even demanded, hard proof before he would believe. And Jesus delivered – in spades. No judgement, no reprimand but simply lets Thomas touch his wounds, gently addressing Thomas’ concerns with compassion and understanding. He offers Himself to Thomas to affirm He is real and alive, mercifully removing all doubts that had separated him from the rest of the tiny church.
Just the thought of Christ’s mercy fills us with confidence and hope. But it should also fill us with humility. If Christ is so eager to spread the news about his boundless mercy, it’s because we need that mercy. It’s because sin is a reality in our lives and in our world, and sin causes real damage that only Christ can repair.
This is the tough side of God’s mercy – the reality of sin. It is why Thomas humbly acknowledged Jesus as “My Lord and My God!” And we do too when we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Bless Me, Father. For I Have Sinned.
In years past, you had to line up to go to Confession. Probably in large part driven by fear of eternal punishment, most people would try to go to weekly confession, some even more frequently than that. People’s understanding of the Sacrament, I would suggest, was poorly informed.
The emphasis tended to be on telling in vivid detail a litany of sins to the priest who would hopefully give you absolution and penance. And if you omitted any mortal sin then you committed the sin of sacrilege. If you didn’t say your penance, you sinned. It could seem you were surrounded by hounds baying for your blood – and it wasn’t “The Hound of Heaven”! (Poem by Francis Thompson). In my experience, if you were an altar server, you had to go to confession on the Saturday before you could serve on the Sunday – whether you needed to or not.
Of course, receiving absolution was and still is a great relief. It restores the penitent to full communion with Christ, the Church community, not by the priest but by Christ Himself through the priest, and bestows grace for strength in confronting future temptation.
Nevertheless, it is fair to say it was a daunting experience for many penitents.
When the risen Christ instituted the Sacrament by granting the Apostles authority in His name to forgive or retain sin, He immediately demonstrated with Thomas the empathy and sensitivity expected of them in exercising that authority. It is not to be a torture chamber.
Pope Francis, in October 2013, made this comment about the sacrament of reconciliation:
“Confessing our sins is not going to a psychiatrist, or to a torture chamber: it’s saying to the Lord, ‘Lord, I am a sinner,’ but saying it through the brother, because this says it concretely. ‘I am sinner because of this, that and the other thing.’”
(https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/…/pope-sacrament-of-conf…) (My emphasis).
It seems he is expressing his concern that too often the sacrament is misunderstood and avoided – it’s not counselling and certainly not punishment or agony focussed.
But nowadays, there are very few who attend reconciliation on a regular basis. Is it from past experience? Maybe. But it might also have something to do with our busy lives; the emphasis on materialism and immediate pleasure here and now; inadequate nurturing of our spirituality. Probably a mixture of all and many other factors. But unfortunately, the broad understanding of confession remains poor. Some object to going to a person, the priest, to confess their sins. Some reckon they just need to say sorry to God.
Vatican II changed the emphasis in the sacrament to reconciliation, part of which is confessing our sin (where we have separated from God by sins of commission). But it also recognises where we have done well in our relationship with God but could do better (possibly sins of omission). The sacramental graces that flow from Jesus strengthen our endeavours to continue growing as disciples of Jesus.
Article 4 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the “Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation”. It consists of (paras 1423 to 1442 of the Catechism):
• Conversion – returning to the Father, the call from Jesus;
• Penance – consecrates the penitent’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance and satisfaction;
• Confession – acknowledging and praising the holiness of God and His mercy for sinful people;
• Forgiveness – through the priest’s sacramental absolution, God grants the penitent pardon and peace;
• Reconciliation – it imparts to the sinner the love of god who reconciles.
It is a beautiful sacrament. Whilst Eucharist is the summit and source of our Christian life, reconciliation keeps us in a state more aligned with the spirit of Christ by which we live. It nurtures our spirit.
Peace be With You
During this Easter season, and despite the imposition of the COVID-19 constraints, we could try to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Contact a priest and make the necessary arrangements. Do not be afraid.
May the peace of the Risen Christ be with you.
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade for Easter Sunday (Year A) –
12 April 2020
Readings: Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Col 3:1-4, or 1 Cor 5:6B-8 ; John 20:1-9
Oh Death – Where is Your Sting?
We live in dark times. Dark – but not without hope. And in a strange way, almost as if by Divine Order, it comes at a time, Lent & Easter, which focuses us directly and intensely on the hope we have been given in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. We are often reminded of this throughout the year at many funerals where we read those supremely inspiring words from Paul (1 Cor 15:51-57), “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, Oh Death, is your victory? Where, Oh Death, is your sting?” This challenge, first made by Isaiah (25:8), is depicted graphically and beautifully in the image which follows where part of a Michelangelo sculpture of the Risen Christ is engraved on a Sistine Chapel silver coin. Christ stands victorious over the Cross which He holds commandingly in His hands – in control of it having reduced it and its impact to a size much smaller than He. He is young and muscular, and He is victorious. He looks not at the cross but at life around Him.
Today we celebrate Christ’s victory over our sin, indeed, all sin of all ages. Jesus’ victory for life! God alone could do that – we could never overcome our sin and earn our salvation on our own accord. God’s infinite love for us leads us into the mystery of the Incarnation – God became human for the sole purpose of saving us to eternal life. All of creation is reconciled to God through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The scandal of the crucifixion is that a person such as Jesus should be subjected to it.
Over the last six weeks of Lent we have been preparing for this moment. A time for repentance and sacrifice now turns into fifty days of anticipation and rejoicing – anticipating the coming of the Holy Spirit and rejoicing for the love of our Saviour over Eastertime.
Do You Really Believe it?
Make no mistake about it. “Resurrection” is a mystery – in the truest sense of the word. It is not something we can prove scientifically. It is not something that we can witness here today. “Mystery” of course means by definition that we cannot prove it or understand it but we nevertheless believe it did happen – and that’s important. There are many things that happen that we didn’t see but we can see the consequences thereof. A classic example is the creation of the Universe, and life in it. We know it happened – we can see the consequences, planets, meteors, stars, black holes etc, etc. And we can see the myriad forms of life on earth. But what brought it all into existence in the first instance is a mystery. In fact, whilst there are theories offered for our digestion, creation theory, the Big Bang Theory, they are simply that, theories – not concrete proof. To accept either of them requires some level of faith.
But we know the Resurrection of Jesus happened – we have first-hand witnesses to it; a written record of events in the four Gospels; and all of its consequential history which is testament to its power and occurrence. Even so, for us to believe in the Resurrection requires an even larger jump of faith than choosing either creation theory or the big bang as an explanation of the beginning of the Universe’s existence. How can a man raise himself back to life after being dead for three days? Never been done before; hasn’t been done since.
Faith & Doubt – Opposite Sides of The Same Coin
Jesus knew how hard it would be for us to believe. You can’t have faith without some level of doubt. If there is no doubt, then it is no longer faith – but a law. If it is a law, then our ability to freely choose to believe is compromised; our ability to choose love and life is eliminated. God’s promise of free will is obliterated – an astounding heresy of predetermination. Two Sundays ago, on the 5th Sunday of Lent, we heard Jesus talking with Martha (a woman who had great faith in Jesus). Before raising Lazarus from the dead, He put a deeply probing question to her (He recognised the potential at least for doubt on Martha’s part):
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die!
DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?” (Jn 1:25-26)
BUT THE RESURRECTION IS FUNDAMENTAL AND CENTRAL TO OUR FAITH IN JESUS AS GOD, OUR SAVIOUR. As Paul says, without it, we have nothing at all. (1 Cor 15-17)
So today we contemplate the mystery at the heart of the Christian faith, at a time when doubt raises its ugly head and tempts us towards non-belief. It is simple but extraordinary and powerful. It is so mind-blowing that even the disciples and the apostles who Jesus told it would happen didn’t believe it until they saw Him. They doubted. They were terrified at Jesus’ cruel death and ran for cover. Jesus’ resurrection shattered all their concepts and understanding of life. In the history of humanity death was and still is today the greatest fear, the curse to wish or inflict on your worst enemies. But Jesus conquered it. “Christ is Risen,” says it all. We can no longer live the same way now that death has been defeated in Christ.
Our God is a God of revelation – of revealing Godself to us. But St. Peter reminds us in the First Reading (Acts 10:34A, 37-43) that the Risen Christ revealed Himself to those who believed in Him or wanted to believe in Him.
He reminds us that “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name”.
An encounter with the Risen Christ in faith is always a salvific and transforming experience.
In today’s Second Reading (Col 3:1-4) St. Paul reminds us that seeing our world through the eyes of faith keeps us focussed on “…what is above”. That our faith is based in the hope of Christ’s resurrection bringing joy to our lives here and now.When we gaze above in faith, we know the Risen Christ stands at the right hand of His Father and intercedes for us.If we don’t see Him it is because our faith is not strong enough and we need to pray for more.
Pope Francis describes a certain class of Christians in Evangelii Gaudium who seem to live a permanent Lent: they have not had an experience of the Lord and His love, and, therefore, the Gospel brings them no joy.
The Resurrection banishes vanity from our lives and changes our perspective.
We Can Only Be Witnesses to the Resurrection If We Believe It and In It!
In today’s Gospel (Jn 20:1-9), we see that the Resurrection didn’t sink in for the disciples until they witnessed the results themselves. It leaves us in hopeful suspense because death no longer had the last word. If the Disciples, especially Peter, had seen so many extraordinary signs of Christ’s power and had been told by Jesus what would happen, yet they still ran for cover from overwhelming fear, then there is great hope for us as we struggle daily with our own faith. For Peter and the others struggled in faith. To struggle in the face of doubt is the strongest sign of faith. It’s worth reflecting on the following:
• The disciples had all the facts. Christ could raise the dead (Lazarus; Jairus’ daughter).
• Even Mary thought today that the body had been stolen (the empty tomb).
• The disciples walking to Emmaus had all the facts (hearts yearning to believe).
• After the Transfiguration, he told Peter not to tell anyone until he was raised from the dead and kept repeating that he would be raised from the dead on the third day (hearing but not understanding or believing).
They had much evidence which they themselves witnessed, but still doubted. But we have many more signs than they did: the Church has testified to the Resurrection for over two thousand years, and many of Christ’s devotees have gone to their graves in history & in our own lifetime believing that someday they would rise, just as Our Lord did.
The resurrection is the source of all hope in our lives – hope in eternal salvation no matter the pain suffered in this life. That we will be raised to glorify Jesus if we believe.
Today’s coronal source of darkness is not “sin” per se, not a sign of punishment by God, but a microscopic organism invisible to the naked eye. It is undeniably a source of deep grief in many ways – financial stress, isolation, sickness, and ultimately, death. This little bug has pushed us into a dark place – one where only hope can survive. Just as Christ went into a dark place in his tomb 2000-odd years ago for three days, His resurrection gives light to all our dark places today, no matter how long they are to endure.
The life-giving power of the Risen Lord has overwhelmed the deathly power of the cross.
• That is what Easter Sunday does for us.
• That is what the Resurrection does for us.
• It makes the light of hope shine so brightly in our lives that it cuts our crosses and suffering down to size.
We can bear them now, and with joy, because we know that they are leading us towards the glorious victory of the Resurrection. We may well come out of our isolation and desolation somewhat changed people. But we will come out of it.
The Resurrection is our hope. Oh Death, where is your sting?
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade for Palm (PASSION) Sunday (A) – 5 April 2020
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalms 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14–27:66 or 27:11-54
Where is My Donkey? Where are My People?
In many ways, it is hard for us to come to grips with staying home this Sunday, probably THE one Sunday when we start to make a special effort to go to Church and give thanks and praise to Christ our Saviour – Easter time starting with Palm (or Passion) Sunday. To wave palms on Palm Sunday with smiles and joy to celebrate Jesus’ victorious ride into Jerusalem – victory over sin; victory over evil; victory that saved us! It’s in our DNA to get excited about it! So, it is with heavy hearts that we are confined by a micro-organism to become temporary “home hermits”, being called to reflect on Easter 2020 from afar and on how good we have had it.
We start this most profound week of reflection, prayer, and sacrifice alone at home. No liturgy. Feeling abandoned – no family gatherings, public cheering, or even going to Church. It is certainly spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically challenging. It tears at our hearts. We suffer. And it’s real. Tuning in to on-line Mass can help but it’s just not the same.
But if we think like that for too long, we turn in on ourselves and lose sight of the real message of Easter! Palm Sunday is a time of exceptional hope and love. We stand at the threshold of Holy Week, of Jesus’ last supper, His agony in Gethsemane, His trial and passion, and death on Good Friday, followed by His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Just as we are being challenged today, albeit in new ways for us, Jesus was challenged to His very core. Despite riding into Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey with people praising Him and waving palms along the way, He then suffered and died mercilessly, virtually alone. Throughout it all He felt abandoned – but never lost sight of His Father’s love or the victory to be achieved for us. The victory over original sin. He rode on a donkey, a lowly beast of burden – not a strong, flashy warhorse or chariot, but a humble donkey. Greeted and cheered by His people along the way – waving the sign of victory, palms.
In some ways, our current crisis is a blessing. It is forcing us as individuals to re-prioritise our lives; to realise just how dependent on God’s love we are; just how vulnerable we are to that silken thread of life that can be so easily broken. But as a community we are called to be lovers – they will know we are Christians by the way we love, treat, and respect each other!
And so the questions Jesus might ask today could be, “Where is My Donkey? Where are My People?”
We as members of a loving Christian community are Christ’s donkey in the world today. The humble, obedient donkey can be seen as a symbol of us as individual disciples of Christ and the broader Church. We carry Him in society through our love and understanding for each other, especially to the most vulnerable; through the innovative ways we remain community by our prayer and distant contact (email, telephone, visits where allowed, etc). We remain connected at least spiritually by joining in prayer with each other – where possible at the same time. And we know it will end – it might even have beneficial legacy changes to our lifestyle and prayer life – but the current pain will end.
So in our time of temporary challenge, we should spare a thought and pray especially for those forgotten ones amongst us. Those isolated by homelessness, illness, old age, loneliness, poverty – who live this challenge each and every day of their lives. Feeling abandoned and unloved. They who can’t get to Mass but may search out the internet to do so. They too are Christ’s people; and we are His donkey in bringing Him to them and to our families and friends – with humility and hope, just a Jesus showed us 2000 years ago.
God is Faithful: You can trust Him
Imagine if you can, Jesus on the back of that donkey, a docile, obedient, humble pack animal. Loaded on that donkey’s back is not just the physical weight of Jesus Himself, but the weight of all sins of all ages. To those present who believed Jesus to be their Messiah, it is a victorious parade of God’s faithfulness in love for us despite our lack of trust in God. A humble, docile, obedient animal carries Jesus, the humble, docile, obedient servant of God, triumphantly into Jerusalem.
It can be seen as a direct contrast to the triumphal processions of victorious Roman generals who would usually ride a four-horse-drawn chariot triumphantly into Rome displaying their captives and trophies of war for all to see. It was a tumultuous event and aggressive with captives in chains being mocked and mistreated along the way. The procession was slow, cruel, and galling to the locals. It usually ended at the temple Capitoline where oxen were offered as sacrifice to their pagan gods. It was an extravagant affair which could last several days.
In direct contrast, Jesus’ procession was humble but victorious; gentle but assertive; peaceful but provocative. No parading of captives and trophies but rather being led by crowds placing their cloaks and palm leaves in His path, cheering Him on as their King, their Saviour! Emphatically claiming His victory over sin, sealed with His death and resurrection one week later (a victory that no Roman General could ever claim!) He won the hearts of the people. The Romans and the High Priests and Pharisees were sent into a frenzy. Thus was triggered Christ’s passion with His death to follow very soon thereafter.
Jesus was anything but naïve. He knew what lay ahead and pleaded that God might free Him from it. He trusted God. So today’s celebration is a paradox – joy versus sorrow: trust (the joy of not losing sight of Jesus’ salvific love) versus doubt (the sorrow in our loss of trust as we focus on temporal pain here and now). How do we celebrate both joy and sorrow at the same time? How do we stay faithful to a God if we don’t or can’t trust Him?
The answer of course stares us right in the face – how did Jesus do it? He was human like us – He was tempted and tested on a grand scale. As suggested earlier, He was tested and shaken to the core.
• Judas, one of His Apostles, betrayed Him at the Last Supper. Jesus was saddened;
• He pleaded with God the Father for it to pass Him and sweated blood in fear – but stayed true to the Father – not Jesus’ will be done, but the Father’s. Jesus trusted God;
• The Apostles fell asleep and abandoned Him. Peter denied even knowing Him. Jesus was saddened;
• He was subjected to false accusations of treason and blasphemy – by His own. Jesus was saddened;
• He was humiliated beyond description and tortured – with a crown of thorns and cruel scourging all the way to Calvary. Jesus was saddened;
• He died agonisingly on a cross – naked, bloodied, mocked, and alone, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Jesus trusted God.
Above all else, and as demonstrated throughout the Scriptures, Jesus knew Yahweh is ever faithful to God’s covenant of love with Jesus and all of creation, especially with us, the great sinners! He knew He could trust God if He was obedient to God’s will and that God would honour Him. And so He was faithful and obedient to God’s will, even unto death.
Therein lies the paradox of celebrating joy and sorrow – the transcendent joy of being faithful to God in trying times versus the sorrow of the pain and suffering in the here and now.
Be Humble, Gentle & Peaceful
Jesus, over the coming Holy Week, demonstrates humility, gentleness, and peace in obedience to God’s will, in the most extreme circumstances of His personal suffering and death. As we confront and accept our challenges with the constraints imposed by a micro-organism and all the other challenges in our lives, we could do likewise.
• Humility: Pray frequently and more deeply – acknowledging our total dependency on God for all things; thankful for God’s gift of our salvation. Choose a passage of the Passion scripture and contemplate it;
• Gentleness: Accept the wisdom of the constraints being imposed and the difficulty of the situation and resist complaining about the pain that follows. Smile and say gidday to those you happen to see or meet;
• Peace: Help someone. Contact them; seek someone out in your immediate neighbourhood and talk with them, especially if they are alone. Greet them with “Peace, my friend” or something similar. Try to stay actively connected spiritually with each other. Get in touch with your Parish Community Facebook page (if they have one) and stay connected to your community.
Easter is a time for us to review and if need be, re-prioritise our lives – to get our spiritual, emotional, and psychological lives into better balance. Jesus shows us how to do just that. Throughout the Gospels we see many instances of Jesus healing the afflicted – the blind, the lame, the infirmed, the deaf and mute, and the spiritually dead. Many instances of His forgiving sin. And He is doing all of this for us today – as we suffer not just the viral pandemic, but our other everyday challenges. He prays constantly. We could too – if we trust Him.
Through our baptism, Jesus makes us His donkey. We are His people. He died and rose for us. Let us also die to His love by the way we show humility, gentleness, and peace to all in these awful times and rise to new life in the Holy Spirit, here and now.
Trust Jesus and be His donkey and bring Easter hope to those around us.
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (A) – 29 March 2020
Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalms 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45 or 11:3-7, 17, 20-2
Do you hear the Christians sing? Life!
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday – the final Sunday of Lent for 2020. We will move from John’s Gospel back to Matthew’s in our Gospel readings. But today, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we have the final reading from John for Lent. There has been an emerging theme throughout the Lenten readings thus far, particularly in John’s Gospel. Have you felt or noticed it – the increasing tension or movement in our readings? The building up to a tremendous crescendo as we move inexorably towards Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus?
Let’s quickly recap the Gospel readings for Lent This Year:
Week 1 – Matthew 4:1-11:
Jesus is tempted and He overcomes them, showing His humanness but hinting at His Divinity;
Week 2 – Matthew 17:1-9:
Peter, James, and John witness the transfiguration of Jesus – a spiritual manifestation of His Divinity;
Then comes the three famous “I am…” statements by Jesus:
Week 3 – John 4:5-42:
“I am the living water” – Jesus is the Living Water – the One who sustains eternal hope;
Week 4 – John 4:1-41
“I am the Light of the World” – heals the blind man; Opens the eyes of the spiritually blind;
Week 5 – John 11:1-45
“I am the resurrection and life” – Jesus is the Giver of Life raising Lazarus from the dead and freeing us from death;
Week 6 – Matthew: 26:11-54
Jesus Hailed as the Redeemer on Palm Sunday;
Jesus rises from the dead as Saviour.
The three “I am” statements from John’s Gospel underline with increasing emphasis the Divinity of Jesus. You can feel the tension rising. We could parody that throbbing theme song and beat from Les Miserables, “Can you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men!” to “Can you hear the Christians sing? Singing the song of hopeful men”.
Just as the people of France in the time of Les Mis were confronted with injustice, death, and fear, so too were the people of Jesus’ time with the Roman occupying forces and the repressive enforcement of religious law and condemnation by the Jewish authorities. The Pharisees and the High Priests were inflexible and relentless. Both the Romans and the religious leaders tortured and killed the people without compunction. The people eagerly awaited redemption through the coming of their Messiah. They eagerly awaited freedom and life. And so their growing awareness and acceptance of Jesus as their Messiah is almost palpable as we move through the readings. From Jesus being seen as just another wise Rabbi to a King who was worthy of cheer and celebration – who would redeem and free them. The Romans, Pharisees et al were equally trenchant in their brutal opposition to it.
So today, as we move towards Palm Sunday and the glory of Christ’s resurrection, Jesus puts His stamp of Divinity on His life by living out the saving power of God alone – to bring Lazarus who is dead back to life – the Giver of Life. Only God can do that!
It’s an emphatic statement and example of God’s love for life and freedom. US Bishop Robert Baron, from “Word on Fire”, often quotes St Irenaeus (born circa 120CE; Died 202CE and regarded as one of the early Fathers of the Church) who professed that, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!” Our God, Jesus Christ, loves one thing more than anything else, LIFE!
When we are open to life in Christ, we glorify God and God glorifies us. But as sinful people, we are not always open to life in Christ.
Jesus Can Take Care of Tragedies – Don’t Lose Hope
When we are surrounded by pain, misery, and poverty, life gets tough and gloomy (as it did for Martha and Mary on Lazarus’ death). We tend to focus on the here and now and sometimes lose sight of the ultimate salvation promised to us. We can easily be overcome and despair of success. Probably nothing has a more profound impact on us than the death or threatened death of a loved one. That’s almost a truism! But we are human – as Jesus was human; and we suffer – as Jesus suffered.
But despite being surrounded by death and gloominess in today’s world, there is hope. Hope in the resurrection. Hope in new life. Why? Because we know and believe from Scripture that our God loves life, more than anything else. So despite all the corona virus’ nasty impacts – its imposition on our freedom in ways we have never experienced before including severe curtailment of free association even with loved ones, or worse still its foreboding threat of death; despite all the evil in the world; despite our own inability to sometimes cope with our own challenges, there is still hope. Hope that comes from Jesus’ resurrection. Nevertheless, we struggle sometimes to see it.
It’s particularly exciting therefore that in today’s Scripture readings, hope is two-fold.
Firstly, God loves life, not death. The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel, is a prelude to Jesus’ action with Lazarus. Ezekiel lived about 600BCE. The Lord asserts to Ezekiel that He loves life & people so perfectly that He will “…open your graves and have you rise from them…”. He will overcome death and we will all rise to new life after death as God desires.
Secondly, in the Gospel reading from John, Jesus demonstrates His divinity unequivocally by raising Lazarus back to life after his death – He has Lazarus rise from his open grave – almost in accord with Yahweh’s promise to Ezekiel. Only God could do that! Thus, Jesus in turn preludes His own resurrection. The difference being, of course, that
• Lazarus was brought back to life by Jesus as a human being destined to die a second time;
• Jesus resurrected Himself as the Messiah never to die again but to be fully and perfectly reconciled to God as our Saviour.
In both instances, Jesus acted as and is God!
But Jesus is still human – He is “..human like us in all things except sin” (Catechism: 467) as the Church teaches and professes in our Creed. He still felt compassion and sorrow for Martha & Mary. He loved Mary, Martha, & Lazarus; he was wrought with sadness; and He wept. His own personal feelings of grief and empathy for Martha & Mary guided His response to their sorrow. He was not distracted by the situation but responded to it with love.
When we are confronted with life’s challenges, we can become distracted. Lose sight of our salvation. But Christ is there always, showing us the way. We only need to open our eyes to it and;
• Call on Jesus for hope when we are urged to despair;
• Allow Christ’s spirit to transfigure & strengthen us in hope that we can continue on;
• Be open to receive and drink of the Living Water, Christ’s spirit, to sustain us in hope;
• Let Christ light our way through the darkness of despair by healing our
• Allow Christ to raise us above the constraints and limitations we impose on ourselves or are imposed on us – whether they be ill health, poverty, stress, death, and envy.
The Lazarus experience, in being freed from our current despair, is and can be a profound personal experience, physically and spiritually – if like Mary & Martha we humbly open our hearts to Jesus, the Christ, in trust and acceptance of Him as Lord. He will respond every time.
It is tough in these times of the corona virus – which is denying us the ability to be physically present to receive the Eucharist at Mass. But it’s an invitation from the Holy Spirit for us to reflect on just how good we usually have it in life, in our little part of the world. To focus on and reflect in more depth on how we respond to life’s challenges and the power of hope in Jesus – the resurrection and life. And so, to quote Jesus from today’s Gospel, one must ask, how would I answer His probing question?
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die!
DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?”
Do you hear the Christians sing? Singing the song of hopeful people?
Homily by Deacon Peter McDade for the fourth Sunday of Lent (A) – 22 March 20 2020
Readings: First Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
Bringing the light of Christ
On this, the Fourth Sunday of Lent 2020, our preparation for Easter, the primordial and most important liturgical celebration of the Church’s liturgical year, is being thrown into disarray by a small virus which has devastating potential to wreak havoc on our health, wellbeing, and lives. For the first time in our contemporary history, celebration of Sunday masses has been suspended until further notice. Archbishop Mark has granted a dispensation to all from their obligation to attend Sunday Mass. It is expected to continue well past Easter!
These are indeed, dark times. We are being denied “the summit and source” of our spiritual journey, the Mass (lumen Gentium 11, Vatican II, & Catechism: 1324) at a time when more than ever we need the light of Christ in our lives. It is in these times we are particularly called, through our Baptism, to be the Light of Christ in our world. To shine our light through understanding, love, and support of those in need. It is particularly challenging for our outreach ministries like St Vincent de Paul, Hospital Chaplaincy, ministering to the sick, to name a few where social distancing strategies can have their greatest negative impact.
It is a time for us to demonstrate enhanced alertness, sensitivity and patience in all we do. As some say, “We are on a wartime footing” – maybe being a little dramatic but it gets the point across. More than ever before, we are being called to be dedicated Disciples of Christ. It can be our personal transfiguration as we struggle to climb the mountain of life.
How fortuitous then, that our Readings today focus on “light”. Today we recall Our Lord’s healing of a blind man that brought many more things to light than just one man’s eyesight. It teaches us how blind we can be to what’s going on. The Lord wants to cure us of the worst blindness: a spiritual one. Through faith in the Son of man, we receive a deeper interior vision beyond our physical sight thanks to Christ, the light of the world.
In today’s First Reading the prophet Samuel has been sent to the house of Jesse to identify and anoint the new king of Israel, a replacement for King Saul, who was a tall, golden-haired, powerful man. Samuel thought Jesse’s son Eliab and any of the other five sons presented would be a good replacement. The Lord puts paid to that idea: “man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.”
David, the youngest son was not considered important enough to even invite to the feast. His father sent him to go do something “useful” while the rest went to the feast. But it was David who Samuel chose! We all know how the story of King David goes from there.
In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that the Lord has brought us from darkness to light, and that light has exposed the good and the bad. Humanity was in darkness until the light of Christ came to lead us out of it. It seems paradoxical that light is needed to recognize darkness, but before the coming of Christ, the darkness of sin did an admirable job of presenting itself as very enlightened. Paul puts Christians who’ve now received the light of Christ on guard against a worldly outlook that seems enlightened, but actually is darkness and fruitless.
In today’s Gospel, the Lord heals a blind man and helps him and others to see with an entirely new level of light, the light of truth. This light shines on everyone involved in the story, and that light is Christ.
The man born blind received an opportunity to see that Jesus had been sent by the Father and had the power of God to heal. He saw a miracle happen. The disciples thought his blindness was due to either his sin or the sin of his parents. Our Lord corrected them. His healing was to show God at work. Much the same way as we can see today the power of God’s healing in the medical research and studies being undertaken to overcome the virus. It is much more than mere intellectual grunt. It is in how we respond as Christians to the challenge.
The man born blind could not deny what was right in front of his face. At this point, the Pharisees had decided to cast out anyone who said Jesus was the Messiah. He didn’t claim Jesus was the Messiah, but when he presented irrefutable logic to the Pharisees: “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him … If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”
Our Lord had not just restored his sight; he’d given him the light to see salvation at his doorstep and the need to give witness to it. Christ showed the Pharisees that they weren’t blind, a motive for innocence for their attitude. They chose not to accept what they saw.
Vision/insight Needs True Light
No matter how good our eyesight is, we cannot see in the dark. The Catechism teaches us that “human nature has not been totally corrupted [due to Original Sin]: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin” (Catechism: 405).
Christ restores our vision to its fullest spiritual potential through his light and his perfect vision. And that is precisely what we need in these dark and challenging times – prayer, faith, and trust – that we might be the light of Christ. Not in any platitudinal or euphemistic way – but in displaying hope and love in our response to the challenges as we prepare for the ultimate – Christ’s resurrection. In how we react and treat each other and strangers at this and all times.
Let Christ light up your life
We’re so used to living in spiritual darkness as a consequence of original sin that we grow accustomed to living in the dark. We need to consciously step out of it. Whilst a worldly outlook on the world may seem the logical result of bad experiences, it is truly a gloomy one. Lent is a time of penance and sorrow for our sins, but it is also a preparation to celebrate the light of the Resurrection. Let’s pray that Jesus’ resurrection light will guide us in our response to the darkness and gloominess of our world today as we respond to the call to be the real Light of Christ.