Homilies – Easter 2014
11am ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, 20 APRIL 2014
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 10:34, 37–43; COLOSSIANS 3: 1-4; JOHN 20:1-9
The Lord is truly risen! Alleluia!
Death is not the end of the story. Salvation history leads us from death into the new life of Easter.
Over the last few days of the Easter Triduum, we have been reflecting on how Jesus has fully entered into the sufferings of humanity, even to the point of death on the Calvary Cross. But Jesus is not only fully human. Not only is he fully aware of all our human aspirations and desperations but he is also fully and truly God. And God has raised Jesus from the dead and lifted him up. As he ascends back to the Father he takes us with him in his Church. This is the cause of our joy! There is true hope, and not just passing hope! All our sorrows, in Christ, will in God’s own time and place become redemptive!
I recall some years ago an Australian Bishop whom I admire greatly told us of an experience he had in a parish when he was a parish priest. He was visiting regularly a man suffering from cancer. At the start, of course, everyone was praying for his healing. But the healing came in an unexpected way. His cancer advanced and he was at the point of death. Incredibly, as always happens with fragile humanity, many of his friends became increasingly embarrassed to go and visit him realising that he was soon to die. He was left largely alone with this wife and immediate family. But the priest continued to come weekly with Holy Communion for him. Over the final months of his life he was progressively unable to eat much, to the point where he was eating virtually nothing. On the last visit the priest arrived with Holy Communion, the priest asked him was he able to eat any food. The cancer victim answered by saying that he could not now eat any food at all. And then he said to the priest “but what you have brought for me is the only food that I can now take. It is the only food that I need, Father.” He was obviously talking about the Holy Communion. Holy Communion in this case was his final food for the journey from this life to the Easter life hereafter.
The priest and immediate family could see that the real miracle was now happening. He was full of hope and deep joy, although raked with considerable pain. But he was now on the threshold of Easter as he was hanging for the last moments on the Calvary Cross of his suffering. But it was all done in Christ. By dying in Christ this man, in faith we say, will truly rise with Christ. There is always hope even at the point of great suffering.
This surely is the experience of the women who arrived at the empty tomb on the first Easter Day. They arrived to embalm the dead body of Jesus. But it slowly dawned upon them that in fact he had already risen from the dead. Particularly in Mary Magdalene, we see a tremendous transformation from weeping, to then realising the person she was talking to was the risen Lord, and then running to the Apostles with great joy. This was Mary Magdalene’s Easter transformation. She became the first person to announce to the world that Jesus had risen. The woman who had been forgiven much and suffered much in her life was the one that God chose to announce to the Apostles that He had risen.
So now, let us like Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of God and the early Apostles be led to receive Easter faith as if for the first time. Let us not run away from the frailties of our humanity but rejoice in them. Let us now see that our ultimate destiny is in Christ risen from the dead. Let us be like that man when receiving Communion at the point of his death. Let us say with him “the only food I need now is the food of the Eucharist.”
GOOD FRIDAY, PASSION OF THE LORD
3pm ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, 18 APRIL 2014
ISAIAH 52:13-53; HEBREWS 4: 14-16, 5:7-9; JOHN18: 1-9, 19:42
On this Good Friday we can receive great wisdom on how to participate on this Solemn day from St Augustine. St Augustine was one of the greatest theologians the Catholic Church has ever produced. he was a Fifth century saint and is one of the Doctors of the Church. He talks of the death of the Lord Jesus as a wonderful transaction. He states “He died from what was ours: we will live from what is His.” Let us ponder upon St Augustine’s profound insight.
The first aspect is that “he died from what was ours”. The all loving and merciful God dies to forgive our sins and to enter into our sufferings and sinfulness. This is the first impulse of entering into the death of the Lord. We are to allow the loving presence of Jesus to enter into our deepest needs and our deepest wants. In our sufferings we ask the Lord to come into our sicknesses and our grief’s, our hopelessness and desperations. We particularly think in these days of the pain of the Ukrainian people in regard to the threat to their nation’s security. There are many Ukrainians in Canberra, we pray for them. We think also of the suffering of those who are full of depression and anxiety. Suicide rates are so high in Australia. We pray for the homeless. The St Vincent de Paul Society tells me that homelessness in this city of Canberra is at an all-time high. Whatever our suffering is, we call on Jesus to enter into this pain. I ask you to do that now. (silence)
The extraordinary thing about it is that Jesus has already entered into our pain before we’ve even asked him. That is what grace is. It is amazing grace. The new covenant that God has given us comes before us even before we make any plea. We also ask the Lord to come into our sinfulness, not only personal sinfulness but our sinfulness as a community. I can think of the lack of hospitality and mercy that we show to asylum seekers in Australia. The lack of bridge building in our own families and forgiveness for those that have grieved us. I can think of intolerance and vandalism. This was particularly evident in recent days with the trashing of the Canberra Islamic Centre in Monash. But we also think of the sinfulness that comes from our own lips through gossiping and the lack of communication with each other. The way we so easily put up walls and power blocks rather than to be ready to listen to the other side about our issues.
And secondly we ask, in the light of St Augustine, “that we will live from what is his.” This is where we place our own suffering and sinfulness into the suffering and death of Jesus. It’s not just a matter of Jesus coming to us in our suffering and sinfulness. It’s also a matter of us going to the Lord and placing all that concerns us at the foot of the Calvary Cross. This is the only way to bring life out of death experiences. For us Christians, there is no other way to the hope and joy of Easter than via the bloodied cross of Christ on the hill of Golgotha on the first Good Friday. It is the only way that our burdens will be lifted up and find redemption. By nailing our sufferings onto the Calvary Cross the springtime of Easter will surely come.
So let me now go on with this Solemn ceremony of Good Friday. Let us swim in the ocean of God’s amazing grace for us. As we now move onto the veneration of the Cross, let us do this with great care and thoughtfulness. And as we venerate the Cross let us nail all our suffering and sinfulness onto the Calvary Cross by some sign of devotion to the Cross. Even before we approach the Cross may we realise that the amazing grace of Christ is flooding us right now with Easter hope. May this moment of veneration of the Cross be a time of great hope, solemnity and profound prayer. If we die with Christ we will rise with Christ.
HOLY THURSDAY, EVENING MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
7.30pm ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, 17 APRIL2014
EXODUS 12:1-8, 11-1;1 COR. 11: 23-2; JOHN 13: 1-15
This evening we gather in our Cathedral to celebrate with the entire Christian world a pivotal moment in our faith.
On the first Holy Thursday night, the Lord Jesus gathered his disciples together. We hear in tonight’s Gospel how he celebrated the first Eucharist, instituted the priesthood and gave us an example of servant leadership by washing the feet of his disciples.
In doing all this, he began the new covenant of God with his people. He celebrated in a symbolic almost sacramental manner what took place historically the next day on Good Friday. Every time we celebrate the Mass, we sacramentally re-present the Last Supper and celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Through, with and in Jesus, we participate in his sacrifice on the Cross to the Father.
Before this moment in our salvation history, our covenant with God has always been there but it has been on a different level to what is now celebrated in the new covenant.
In the Old Testament there are several different types of covenants. We hear of the covenant celebrated with Noah. There is a cosmic and almost ecological dimension of this. But it is a bi-lateral covenant. This means that God gives himself to us and makes us the apple of his eye but we are required to respond to this covenant. Two parties are involved. This is also seen in the covenant with Abraham (see Genesis 12-17). Requirements are necessary for our response to the covenant. For Abraham, he must have leave his country and family, he is to ritually sacrifice animals, circumcision was required and he is to believe that he and his infertile wife, Sarah, will have a child. But it was always a bi-lateral covenant. God and human relationships are dependent on certain requirements.
But the Prophets then foretold that a new covenant would be in the making. Sinful and weak humanity couldn’t respond to the bi-lateral covenant. They were always failing. God was always faithful but humanity was not faithful. Jeremiah and Ezekiel promise a new covenant. This covenant would be unilateral. It was predicted that it would not be dependent upon human response but would be totally dependent on God. It is all about God’s movement towards us. Some biblical commentators basically said that God in effect was saying “I might as well let you in on the big secret, I’ll do it all anyway!”
This happened at Calvary and in every Mass. By the Blood of the Lamb, the new covenant was sealed. The Blood of the Lamb is the blood of Jesus, the great High Priest and Head of our faith, poured forth on the Calvary Cross.
This is important for us to remember. Morally and physiologically we often feel our unworthiness. However, deep down within our hearts, in good Catholic theology, we always say that God has already won in us! His mercy and love are infinite and everlasting.
Our identities as Catholic Christians are based on this belief. It is an amazing grace.
That is why this beginning of the Holy Triduum with the Holy Thursday night evening Mass is so pivotal. All of us can ponder on the extraordinary gift that God has given us in Jesus Christ.
In our own feeble way, we try to imitate God’s servant leadership. We see this beautifully exemplified today with our wonderful new Pope Francis. Tonight he is celebrating this Holy Thursday liturgy in a Rehabilitation Ward in Rome.
So let us enter into this Holy Triduum now with this Mass. Over the next three days, let us just pause for a moment and see the three days as not three separate days but as three moments in the one moment-the one saving moment. That is, in the Lord’s death and resurrection we hope to find our deepest identity and our surest anchorage in life’s turning tides.
PASSION SUNDAY (PALM SUNDAY), YEAR A 2014
11am ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
ISAIAH 50:4-; PHILIPPIANS 2:6-1; PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO MATTHEW
SHARING IN THE PASCHAL MYSTERY
Today marks the beginning of Holy Week. Let us see these as not separate days but in fact moments of the one great gift of God to us – the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, our redeemer and Saviour.
Let us find time in our busy schedules to increase our moments to ponder in silence on the saving events of this week. Let us make a real priority to come and join in all the wonderful liturgical aspects of the week and to gather our families in prayer.
In regard to today’s readings, there is an important difference to be made between history and salvation history.
History, as it’s commonly known, is to do with the accurate recording of events in past years. Many people come to Holy Week observing Jesus simply in purely historical terms. That is, that Jesus was born in what we now call the Holy Land, he suffered and died in Jerusalem during the time of Pontius Pilate as the Governor of the Roman Empire and so on. Such historical data is not only from biblical sources but from pagan secular historical origins.
But what we are really pondering upon as faith people is not just simply secular history but salvation history. We’re not just to look over the next week as if we are passively observing some historical event being spoken of yet again. The thrust of salvation history is that we enter actually into it. We don’t look on, we actually allow Jesus to move us through his death and resurrection. We participate in it. This is what I call you to do over the next week. To help us to do that we have good advice from our sacred traditions. From the Patristic age, for instance, we have some wonderful talks available to us from St Gregory Nazianzen. He was a father of the church in the fourth century and the former Archbishop of Constantinople.
In regard to us participating in the saving events of Holy Week, he suggested that we choose a personality that is mentioned in the scripture and let that personality lead us to Easter. We may need to use our imagination in prayer because many of the personalities are only mentioned briefly. But nonetheless this is a beautiful way of truly entering in the saving events of this week.
St Gregory, for instance, suggests that we might choose Simon of Cyrene, and for us to take up the Cross of Christ and follow him like Simon.
Also there is a suggestion that we might identify with Joseph of Arimathea. Who asks the executioner of Jesus for the body of Jesus and made available his own tomb. Then there is Nicodemus, the man who served God by night and prepared his body for burial with perfumes. St Gregory even suggests that we might choose the robber that was crucified alongside Jesus. He asks Jesus to remember him in the kingdom. Jesus forgave him and he was promised salvation.
Then there might be Mary the Mother of Jesus, the woman whose heart was pierced with sorrow. Or Mary of Magdalene, or Salome or Joanna. Mary Magdalene, particularly, was the first one to witness to the Apostles of Easter faith. In our Catholic tradition she is seen as the “Apostle of the Apostles” (apostola/apostolorum).
But the idea is to choose somebody who we can identify with. Use our prayerful imagination to walk with that person over these days of the approaching death, the suffering, the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. By doing so, according to St Gregory of Nazianzen, we truly enter into salvation history and not simply observe it from an armchair from afar.
Let us now pause for a moment in silence and think seriously about a personality in the Passion accounts of our Lord who we can identify with and ask that personality to walk with us in these days. Surely, if we die with Christ we will rise with Christ. Let us pray for this great gift.