Sunday, 19 April 2015
I’d like to reflect on what it must have been like to actually meet the Risen Lord.
And one of the simple things I want to point out is the CHANGE that that meeting produced in the people He met.
We heard in our first reading about how St Peter went out and preached to the crowds. If you think about his message it was actually an exceptionally brave thing he was saying:
He was telling the people he was speaking to that THEY had killed the Messiah. They had crucified the very one who they and all the Jewish people were waiting for:
“It was YOU who accused the Holy One, the Just One… you killed the prince of life”(Acts 3:14-15)
And, let us remember who this brave Peter was:
He was the same man who only shortly before had been hiding in the Upper Room with the other disciples, hiding for “fear of the Jews”(Jn 20:19) as says elsewhere.
He was the same man who when Jesus had been arrested had disowned Him three times.
And yet, now he was bold, and preaching in the public. Preaching a message that condemned the very people he was addressing.
So, what had changed Peter? Made him into “Saint” Peter?
It was this: The experience of encountering the Risen Lord.
Now, we might note that it still took the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to send him out, but, as we read the narrative it is clear that the ENCOUNTER with the Risen Jesus CHANGED Peter: Today's account refers to the "joy" that came to fill the previously-fearful disciples (Pope Francis often refers to joy as the response of someone who has met the Lord); and in the other accounts we can likewise note the CHANGE that occurs in those Jesus appears to.
And it wasn’t just Peter who was changed. We see this same transformation in the other apostles too.
This transformation, of the EFFECT of it is described in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which we heard from in our first reading. And in case you’re not aware of it, our first reading is taken from the Acts all through Eastertide.
And what we hear in all those readings is the activities a group of transformed men and women, who went out and boldly told people about the Risen Lord, went all across the Mediterranean basin, who encountered persecution and martyrdom.
As I said, these men and women had been hiding the Upper Room, but were transformed by the encounter with the Risen Lord.
That meeting with Jesus, as we heard in our Gospel text, was not a comfortable meeting. How could it be comfortable to meet someone who came back from the dead?
The texts says they were in “fright and alarm”(Lk 24:37), that they were “agitated”, that they had “doubts” and were “dumbfounded”. He thus made it clear to them that he wasn’t just a vision or a ghost, that He was flesh and blood, risen from the dead, and so He had them touch Him, and He showed them He could eat.
For us who live 2000 years after it is possible for us to doubt as they first doubted.
However, one of the signs to us of the reality of what they experienced is the CHANGE that the encounter produced in them.
To conclude, what lesson can we learn from this?
Firstly, the reality of His rising from the dead.
Second, to realise the change that can be worked in us too, if we will:
accept the testimony of those who saw Him; and,
be empowered by the Spirit that He sent into them from above.
If we do, then the “Peace be with you”(Lk 24:36), peace to troubled, frightened, and agitated souls like theirs and ours, that “peace” can be ours too today.
Saturday, 18 April 2015
Sunday, 12 April 2015
Today, in Rome, Pope Francis is promulgating a Bull inaugurating a Year of Mercy, a year that will formally commence on the 8th of December. The purpose of this year is (1) to call us to the Lord’s mercy, (2) through the ministry of the Church. He's promulgating the Bull TODAY because today is Divine Mercy Sunday, and today’s Gospel is about the institution of the sacrament of mercy, namely, confession. So let me make a few comments about this in the light of today’s Gospel text.
First, let me note that mercy is EXPENSIVE, it costs Jesus a lot. Pope Francis made this point in a sermon (2013) two years ago today when he noted how today’s Gospel text has the Lord show His wounds to His disciples. He shows them His wounds in the context of entrusting the sacrament of forgiveness to His apostles, telling them, “Those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven them; those whose sins you retain they are retained”(Jn 20:23). Pope Francis said that “these wounds represent the PRICE of our salvation”.
Pope Francis further stressed the manner in which the Lord linked the gift of the Holy Spirit with the power to forgive sins. He said that, “The Holy Spirit brings us the forgiveness of God that ‘passes through’ the wounds of Jesus”.
The Pope went on to link INDIVIDUALISM with some mistaken approaches to sin and forgiveness.
We might note that there is a popular phrase by which people often speak of “forgiving themselves”, but the forgiveness that the Pope is talking about, the forgiveness that Jesus is offering, is not something we give ourselves, rather, it is from a power beyond us: it is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Sin is a weighty business.
Forgiveness is a powerful cure.
But its power is such that I don't have the power WITHIN myself to give it to myself. Like all the sacraments it comes from a power BEYOND us: it comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit works through a priest such that I am offered something that I can't give myself:
the forgiveness of God for my offences against Him and against my neighbour.
Pope Francis directly addressed a different thing that people sometimes say: people sometimes say that they confess their sins directly to Jesus in prayer. Such an attitude readily fits the private individualism of our modern society, BUT it does not fit into what Jesus said:
Jesus established His apostles to be the “INSTRUMENTS” of His forgiveness.
We are SOCIAL beings, not just private beings, and forgiveness comes through the mediation of another. Thus the Pope said we have “to humbly pass through the ecclesial ministry”.
And, referring to those who say they are too EMBARRASSED to confess their sins to a priest, the Pope said that it is “better to be red for one day than yellow for a thousand days” –better to blush today in embarrassment than to burn forever.
The sacrament is thus an “instrument” of forgiveness. As our Faith teaches, it “CONTAINS” grace (Council of Trent; St Thomas ST III q62 a3) –it does not just declare that you are ALREADY forgiven, rather, it actually “CAUSES” grace, causes the forgiveness of your sins (Council of Trent; St Thomas, ST III q62 a1).
We NEED this human mediation of forgiveness. Thus the Pope pointed out that he too goes to confession, at least once a fortnight.
To bring that together:
The Pope is declaring a “Year of Mercy”, a year for us to use the instruments Christ has established in His Church.
Forgiveness cost Jesus a lot, as His wounded hands show.
Forgiveness costs us only a little, the awkwardness of repentance and confession. Let's resolve to make better use of this sacramental means this coming Year.
Sunday, 5 April 2015
2000 years ago, as we just heard in that Gospel text read to us, 2000 years ago the tomb was found to be empty.
The fact that the tomb was empty is attested to by history, it is not a myth. Even the ancient enemies of Christianity acknowledged that the tomb was empty: we can read in the writings of the Roman historians (e.g. Tacitus) and the Jewish historians (e.g. Josephus) that they acknowledged that the tomb was empty.
The fact that the tomb was empty came as a surprise to the disciples of Jesus. Even though the Lord Jesus had predicted it many times to them (e.g. Mt 20:19), the Gospels record that His disciples hadn't understood. Now this point is worth noting because it indicates just how trustworthy the Gospel records are: if the Gospel records were not recording FACTS then they would have been written to make the disciples LOOK GOOD, to highlight their good points, because, after all, they were the early Church LEADERS. The Gospels, however, record the opposite: that the disciples were slow to be understand the Lord’s true message, and even worse that they were worldly and competitive (e.g. Mk 9:34).
So, the empty tomb came as a surprise to the disciples. It was a surprise to Mary Magdalene, the first one to the tomb that Easter morning. It was a surprise to Peter and John who came running to see it. And when the Lord later appeared to others, to a total of over 515 witnesses recorded in the Scriptures, this is pattern again and again: they were filled with joy, but they were surprised.
And they were right to be surprised. This was an event unlike any other in history.
People do not rise from the dead.
Yet, here was someone who did.
For three years He had, as we heard St Peter recall in our first reading, He had gone “about doing good and curing”(Acts 10:38), preaching a Gospel calling for repentance (Mk 1:15) and offering the forgiveness of sins. He claimed that He had the authority to many things that only God can do, like offer the forgiveness of sins (Mk 2:10), something that only God can do (Mk 2:7). He was therefore condemned to death as a blasphemer (Mk 14:62-64). And was crucified.
And then, after three days in the tomb, the tomb was found to be empty.
And, more, for a further forty days He appeared to at least 515 witnesses (that's how many the Scriptures record, there may well have been more).
These witnesses did not see a ghost. Rather, as we heard St Peter recount in that first reading, they “ate and drank” with Him (Acts 10:41), they also touched Him and St Thomas even put his fingers into the wounds in His hands and side (Jn 20:27).
What did these witnesses gain for telling others that they had seen the Risen Lord?
They at first earned doubt and derision. Then they earned persecution and martyrdom.
They had no reason to make this up.
But, there is something they gained, and it is the same thing that you and I can gain if we accept their testimony today: the hope of a better life, eternal life.
And living in the knowledge of that life changes how we live and experience THIS life here below. So, as we heard in our second reading, it empowers us to “look for the things of heaven, where Christ is”(Col 3:1), to look to where our TRUE life is. Because if we die to self, die to sin, we can rise to Christ and in Christ, because “He is our life”(Col 3:4) –if we will but let Him be so.
Inside your newsletter there is a sheet summarising some of the reasons for believing in the Resurrection.
In two weeks we will have a film evening also offering reasons for believing in the Resurrection.
It is not a myth. It is not just wishful thinking. Accepting it, and therefore accepting HIM, can change our lives –if we will but accept the evidence.
Saturday, 4 April 2015
Like last year, I'm going to focus my Easter Vigil sermon on the image on the new Paschal candle, which this year I chose to be the image of two Roman soldiers asleep (which is one of the common images available for paschal candles).
This image, obviously, depicts the soldiers who stood guard outside the Lord’s tomb. The fact that they are asleep, oblivious to the stupendous reality that is about to burst forth from the tomb, is an image of two different ways of engaging with the event we commemorate tonight:
We can be alert and attentive, ready to welcome the Lord;
Or, we can miss what happens, miss salvation, let our Saviour pass us by. In fact, as the Year A Gospel text records from St Matthew, the guards were “shaken” and “frightened”(Mt 28:4) by His rising –not surprised, not late to convert, but so tuned-to-other-realities that they're didn't even grasp that this was something to rejoice in.
What happened that Easter night was the most dramatic event since the creation of the world. Of course, many dramatic events had happened since the creation of the world:
The Fall of our first parents in Original Sin;
The Ten Plagues that were inflicted upon the Egyptians for their refusal to release God’s Chosen People;
The parting of the Red Sea – as we heard in our first reading;
And, moving along, the Incarnation, when the Almighty Creator took flesh in the Virgin Mary;
Later, the drama of Satan’s apparent victory over God-made-flesh when He was crucified, died, and was buried on Good Friday.
Then, it seemed, the drama was over. Evil had won. And God lay dead in a tomb.
When the Lord burst forth from that tomb, however, He showed that He had not been defeated.
Even in those thee days in between He has not been dormant: Scripture says that He went and preached to those souls who had died, who were waiting for Him to open the gates of paradise (1 Pet 3:19).
He had been active while the guards lay asleep.
He burst forth, and the victory of light over darkness was manifest, as our liturgy recalls tonight with the Easter fire and Paschal candle.
Light was created in the creation of the world.
Light burst forth in the Resurrection of the Lord.
The choice for us, now, as for every generation, is how to respond to that light.
We can sleep through it.
Or, we can let us lead us to something more. Our vigil reading from the prophet Baruch is offered to us for this purpose. It refers to “the light of the eyes”(Bar 3:15), it refers to Him who “sends the light”(3:33), and invites us to “seize” (4:2) that light and walk in its “radiance”(4:2) to light.
And what is this radiance Baruch refers to? It is the radiance of the wisdom, the “commands”(3:9), the “Law”(4:2) of the Lord.
In the context of the New Testament, we are to recall that it is CHRIST who is THE Word of the Father, THE wisdom, THE Law, THE way of life: “the way, the truth,and the life”(Jn 14:6), as He said of Himself.
So,bee are to take this radiance of resurrection light and let it lead us to even greater light.
To come back to those sleeping guards:
We can sleep through reality,
Or, we can wake up to it, let it lead us to the fullness He offers. He is “the light of the world”(Jn 9:5), He has proven Himself to be such by His Resurrection,
And if we turn to Him in His resurrected glory then He will lead us, as He has led others, from glory unto glory (2 Cor 3:18).
Friday, 3 April 2015
Thursday, 2 April 2015
The Ceremonial (n.297) says that tonight's liturgy is “first of all” the memorial of how the Eucharist is “the Lord’s Passover” in which He “perpetuated among us the SACRIFICE of the New Law” –and this will be my theme tonight.
When people refer to “Passover” they typically mean the Jewish annual meal.
But that meal, as we heard in our first reading, is actually an annual commemoration of the ORIGINAL Passover in Egypt, by which the Jews were rescued from slavery. They were rescued from physical slavery and led onto a path towards a promised land. In fulfilment of that, Christ, the Passover of the New Covenant, rescues us from spiritual slavery to sin and brings us onto the path to heaven.
In both Passovers, the Jewish, and Christ’s in the Eucharist, the rescuing is by a sacrifice.
But, at first glance, both the Eucharist and the Passover seem to be about a meal rather than be about a sacrifice. However, in the Scriptures, and even in the pagan religions, these two went together: a meal and a sacrifice -you frequently ate the thing that had been sacrificed (but not always: there was a wide variety of Old Testament offerings). Just as, for us now, the Eucharistic sacrifice is also ordered towards us consuming it in Holy Communion.
More specifically, the Scriptures of the Old Testament teach that it is through “blood” that “atonement” is made for sins (Lev 17:11) and the rabbinic commentaries interpreted the blood of the Passover lamb as likewise being about sacrifice and atonement.
The blood of the Passover lamb was smeared on their door posts, and when the angel of death saw it he passed over them and spared them.
The blood of Christ, the New Passover, is spiritually smeared on us, so that the punishment that might otherwise come to us likewise passes over.
St Paul therefore says, “Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us”(1 Cor 5:7). St John similarly portrays Christ as the lamb of the new Passover:
He records John The Baptist hailing Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29);
He describes how Jesus was crucified, sacrificed, at the very moment that the lambs of the Jewish Passover were being slaughtered in the Temple (cf Jn 19:14);
And he describes how not a bone of Jesus was broken on the cross (Jn 19:32,33,36) just was the bones of the Passover lambs weren't broken.
Jesus is the Passover Lamb of the new Passover of the Eucharist, the Mass.
Let me focus this by noting that all this amplifies what is meant by St Paul’s words at the end of our second reading, that what is “proclaimed” in the Eucharist is the “death” (1 Cor 11:23-26) of the Lord.
The Eucharist does not “proclaim” His feeding us,
Does not proclaim His Resurrection,
Rather, as St Paul said, the Eucharist proclaims His “death” –because the Eucharist is the sacrifice, His sacrifice of the Cross, that takes away our sins.
To sum that up, the Passover meal was a commemoration of the original Passover.
In that original Passover the death, the sacrifice of the Passover lambs was the sacrifice that spared the Jewish people.
The new Passover is Christ. His death is the sacrifice for our salvation.
The Eucharist is that sacrifice made present of our altar.
And it is that sacrificial death that is proclaimed in each Mass.