Easter Pastoral Message

20160221-archbishop-crest-img-lgeARCHBISHOP ANTHONY FISHER OP

‘Cheers,’ people say as they raise their glasses, ‘Your health’.

We are rarely conscious that such a toast is a prayer – for health, healing, safety, happiness – for ourselves and each other. The Risen Christ returns to us on Easter day and, raising a glass full of the new wine of the kingdom, He says: Shalom.

Not just “Hi”. Not just “I’m back!”. No: “Shalom, peace, salvation, your health.” Then He shows us His wounds.

Peace and wounds – they seem to go together. Peace negotiations only come amidst tensions, perhaps after terrible violence. The Mass represents the greatest wound ever inflicted, inflicted upon God Himself, and the greatest ever peace-talk. So the bishop or priest begins Mass with the Easter greeting, ‘Shalom, peace be with you,’ and immediately, just like the Risen Lord, shows us his hands.

We say it many times during Mass: peace, the Lord be with you, God’s Spirit be with your spirit. We pray for that peace that heals not just the Victim but the perpetrators.

In recent months I have been blessed to experience a growing sense of this healing Easter peace, amidst the brokenness of my illness. Although it can be difficult to remain at peace while we are suffering, it is often in radical woundedness that we most appreciate the healing peace of Christ. “The peace that only Christ can give” is more than resigning ourselves to suffering. It enables us somehow to consent actively to our burdens and to unite our suffering to the suffering of the crucified Christ.

We all need this Easter peace. No one is exempt. Our resistance to God lacerates our own souls as much as Jesus’ body. We see the effects of sin in the dysfunction in ourselves and our society, in the brokenness of relationships and of a world that is clearly not as it should be.

Suddenly, out of the darkness of the grave, steps the Word of light. “Shalom”, He says, not just “stop quarrelling” but “here, have my sort of peace, a deep, abiding harmony, that heals division, roots out violence, brings fullness of life.”

Easter-time-peace is the kind of peace that calls for healing amidst all the woundedness, for a grace-that-heals even after death. The One who has risen from the tomb shows that every break with God, each other, ourselves, however grave, can yet be healed; that nothing can separate us from the love of God; that whatever we’ve done He will take us back. His open arms are not just displays of hurt and healing but arms wide open with welcome for the returning soul.

Of course this healing peace has come at a cost. The protestant pastor martyred by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonheoffer, spoke of ‘cheap grace’, the illusion that such welcome healing and healing welcome can come easy. But there is no Easter without Good Friday, no resurrection without the cross, no healing but for the wounded. Unlike the easy words of a toast, Easter shalom costs. It costs Christ His very life.

Yet even after He has paid the ultimate price for our salvation, Christ does not lord this debt over us. Rather, He shows us His wounds and offers us His peace. He does not force us to accept Him, but He offers forgiveness and mercy and asks that we extend that same forgiveness and mercy to others.

Sometimes we are sceptical about God’s offer of mercy. We think we are unworthy; that we are too far gone or are beyond help or we think we are too worthy; that we don’t need anyone’s help least of all God’s. But it is precisely when we are at our lowest, when we feel most helplessness, that we can most appreciate the crucified Christ who, himself hanging helpless on the Cross, continued to thirst for our salvation. Certainly that has been my own experience during the Lent that stretched for me from Christmas to Easter.

In this Year of Mercy, the Church is being re-called to Her important mission: to forgive sins, to preach the Gospel, and to heal a fallen and anxious world. As Easter comes and goes we can think it is all about a private experience of inner peace. It is that, certainly, but not only that.
The Great Co-Mission is to join Christ in extending His arms, His wounded and glorified hands, to all. That’s the task of every Christian not just the clergy. What we receive through Easter we must pass on to others.

No end of celebrations of ashen and cruciform repentance, of watery and oily rebirth, no end of pastoral planning and years of mercy, will bring real and lasting Shalom unless we accept that great commission.

“Cheers, Happy Easter, your health”, Jesus says, “now get going.” The blessings of this holiest of seasons for you and all your loved ones.

Chrism Mass – 24 March 2016

Easter Sunday

20160317-easter-img-lgeJohn 20:1-9

It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’

So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

John says that it is ” still dark “, a symbolic reference that the disciples do not yet understand that Jesus, the true light of the world (cf: John 1:4; 8:12; 9:5) has risen from death and the darkness of the tomb.

Although distressed at the death and burial of Jesus, those closest to him became more confused when three days later they found his tomb open and his body nowhere to be found. In the words of Mary Magdalene, ‘ They have taken the Lord out of the tomb ‘ she said ‘ and we don’t know where they have put him. ‘ The disciples were no less confused at seeing the empty tomb, for as yet ‘ they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead. ‘

Peter, head of the college of apostles and first to enter the tomb, establishes officially that the tomb is empty. John, the younger disciple ” whom Jesus loved “, with love’s intuition understands immediately the meaning of the empty tomb.

For Christians today the empty tomb is not a source of confusion but rather the source of our joy and our hope of eternal life, for as St Paul remarked ‘ without the resurrection our faith is meaningless ‘ (1 Cor 15:14). In rising again Jesus conquered death, not only for himself but for all those who believe in him. Symbolic of Easter Sunday, and the Easter Season, is the Paschal candle and the frequent reiteration of Alleluia, the chant of joy and victory at Christ’s redemption of humanity. The words of St Augustine remind us ‘ we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. ‘ In this Easter Season may we rejoice in the resurrection and strive to live in the light of Christ as we proclaim ‘ Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining. ‘

As Jesus’ followers, “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” In death, life is changed not ended. On Palm Sunday, we commemorated the prophetic triumph of Jesus as he entered the holy city of Jerusalem. In faith, we hope to share in the life of God in heaven, the new Jerusalem, where every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more death or mourning. In the words of the Opening prayer of the Easter Vigil:

This is the Passover of the Lord:
If we honour the memory of his death and resurrection
By hearing his word and celebrating his mysteries,
Then we may be confident
That we shall share his victory over death
And live with him forever in God.

Second Sunday Easter

20160321-thomas-img-lgeJohn 20: 19-31

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you,’ and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.

As the Father sent me so am I sending you.’ After saying this he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord,’ he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you,’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him: ‘You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

Although there are fourteen stories about Jesus’ resurrection in the four Gospels, it is the reading from John’s Gospel (20: 19-31) that is used each year for the second Sunday of Easter. There are two distinct parts of this passage, one associated with Jesus’ outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto his disciples on the night of the resurrection, the other concerns Jesus’ appearance a week later and his encounter with the doubting Thomas.

John’s Gospel tells us that on the night of Jesus’ resurrection the disciples were gathered in fear behind locked doors. Jesus came among them and said ‘Peace be with you’ showing them the wounds of his hands and side. As the disciples rejoiced, Jesus then commissioned them to continue his mission of love through the forgiveness of sins ‘As the Father sent me so I am sending you … receive the Holy Spirit. For those sins you forgive, they are forgiven.’ The sacrament of Penance is a gift from God given to the Church by the risen Lord as the first fruit of his own death and resurrection. Given to the Apostles, Jesus’ healing love, the power to forgive sins, continues to be worked and seen through the Church today.

A particularly striking image in this passage is that of Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, creating a strong parallel to Genesis 2:7 in which God breathes life into the lifeless human form. In this sense we consider that with the resurrection we are offered the gift of a new creation.

Of the fourteen resurrection accounts none actually describes Jesus’ physical appearance. What they convey however is the faith of the disciples that Jesus is alive. The Easter message today is not only that Jesus rose, but that he is risen and with us now. For many people in our world it is a matter of ‘seeing is believing’ however Jesus stated ‘Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ Jesus’ encounter with the doubting Thomas resonates with many of us who have struggled at many points in our journey of faith. Often we want to be given assurances, we want to ‘see the holes that the nails made in his hands’. Like Thomas we are invited to move from scepticism and doubt to faith. Ultimately it is this faith in Jesus Christ that gives life.

Even though we cannot actually see him as the disciples did we can encounter the living Jesus in the Sacraments and in the Word. The life of Jesus must overflow into ours and it is through regular prayer, and the reception of the sacraments, especially Penance and Holy Communion, that this encounter takes place.

Third Sunday Easter-Year C

20160322-peter2-img-lgeJohn 21:1-19

Jesus showed himself again to his disciples. It was by the Sea of Tiberias, and it happened like this: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee and two more of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing.’ They replied, ‘We’ll come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat but caught nothing that night.

It was light by now and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. Jesus called out, ‘Have you caught anything, friends?’ And when they answered, ‘No,’ he said, ‘Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.’ So they dropped the net, and there were so many fish that they could not haul it in. The disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ At these words ‘It is the Lord,’ Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak round him and jumped into the water. The other disciples came on in the boat, towing the net and the fish; they were only about a hundred yards from land.

As soon as they came ashore they saw that there was some bread there, and a charcoal fire with fish cooking on it. Jesus said, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore, full of big fish, one hundred and fifty-three of them; and in spite of there being so many the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘who are you?’; they knew quite well it was the Lord. Jesus then stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish. This was the third time that Jesus showed himself to the disciples after rising from the dead.

After the meal Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ He answered, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He replied ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Look after my sheep.’ Then he said to him a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was upset that he asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. ‘I tell you most solemnly, when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go.’

In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. After this he said, ‘Follow me.’

On the third Sunday of Easter we hear the account of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples at the shore of Lake Tiberias, or Sea of Galilee as it was popularly referred. Like other post-resurrection accounts the disciples again initially fail to recognise the Risen Lord. It is just after daybreak that the disciples, tired and despondent, encounter Jesus, who implores them to cast their nets to the starboard side. Jesus’ advice netted an immediate reward, a haul so big that it almost splits the fishing nets.

Jesus had promised “I will reveal myself to the one who loves me” (John 14.21) and it is the beloved disciple John who immediately proclaims ‘It is the Lord’.’ With this Peter jumps from the boat to hasten his way to Jesus.

John highlights Peter’s role as the leader of the disciples. It is Peter who hauls the net to the shore in tact. The miraculous haul of 153 fish symbolises the multitude of people whom the risen Lord will draw to himself through the mission of the disciples. The disciples – just like us – can only carry out the mission given by Jesus to the extent that they are united with him and deeply committed to him. Without him, we can fish all night and catch nothing! (John 21.3)

The risen Lord immediately invites the group to share breakfast with him – in a manner similar to his Passover meal with the disciples. This image applies to our own relationship with the Risen Lord as Jesus wishes to be with us even in the most ordinary situations of life.

Jesus, the good shepherd, has lain down his life for his sheep (John 10.11-15). As the risen Lord, he now calls Peter to be shepherd of the flock.

‘Do you love me?’ Jesus asks three times to which Peter responds ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Peter not only seeks not to assert his love for Jesus but he seeks atonement for his previous denial of him. Having experienced the healing forgiveness of the risen Lord, Peter will submit himself completely to the Lord, even to go ‘where you do not wish to go’ (John 21.18). Peter can be shepherd to the flock only to the extent he is united with Jesus and deeply committed to him.

The later First Letter of St Peter will exhort elders of the early Christian Church:

As an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is entrusted to you, watch over it, not simply as a duty but gladly, as God would have you do it – not for sordid gain but because you are eager to do it. (1 Peter 5.1-4)

We too are like the disciples who encountered the Risen Lord by the shore of Lake Tiberias. Seeing and recognising the Lord requires more than simple physical sight. Rather it comes only through truly knowing and embracing the Lord and proudly saying to him ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.

Fourth Sunday Easter-Year C

20120629-img-16SundayOTLGEJohn 10:27-30

Jesus said: ‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me. The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone, and no one can steal from the Father. The Father and I are one.’

Today’s Gospel is in fact the shortest of any Gospel reading in the three year cycle. Notwithstanding its brevity, John’s Gospel holds great promise for the followers of Jesus – the promise of eternal life. The verse “the sheep that belong to me listen to my voice” identifies that not all are followers of the Good Shepherd however and not all will be granted eternal life. These words distinguish those who listen to the shepherd’s voice and follow him from those who, even after hearing him speak and seeing the wonders of his work, refuse to believe. “You do not believe the works that I do in my Father’s name … you do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep” (John 10:26).

Preceding this passage Jesus had declared “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:24) an image which had been used to portray God throughout the Old Testament (Psalm 23) (Ezekiel ch 34) and in the Book of Jeremiah God in fact promises to raise up new shepherds to continue the legacy of David. It is the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd that largely shapes our understanding of our relationship with him. Sheep of course are defenceless and often in need of protection from predators. They are also vulnerable because they have a tendency to stray, and even become lost once they are separated from their shepherd. But it is the shepherd’s voice that they recognise, giving them a sense of security.

It is the voice of Jesus we hear as he calls us by name. Jesus the Good Shepherd loves and leads us, searching for us when we stray. The depths of his love for us know no limit. “I will lay down my life for my sheep” (John 10:15). By knowing Jesus the Good Shepherd we are ultimately drawn into intimacy with the Father for “the Father and I are one.

Jesus the Good Shepherd, open my ears to hear you. Open my heart to receive you. Strengthen my will to follow you.

Fifth Sunday Easter-Year C

IMG-A-14-OTJohn 13:31-35

When Judas had gone Jesus said: ‘Now has the Son of Man been glorified, and in him God has been glorified. If God has been glorified in him, God will in turn glorify him in himself, and will glorify him very soon. My little children, I shall not be with you much longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples’.

This profound Gospel is at the heart of what it means to be fully human and it is the essence of true Christian discipleship. In giving to his disciples “a new commandment” Jesus encapsulates the essence of the Ten Commandments i.e. a love of God and a love of neighbour. There is a vast difference between the love for God and neighbour and the love of things. Sadly we live in a society which has become preoccupied with self-satisfaction and self-gratification, a society in which we love things and use people rather than loving people and using things.

The righteous heart however is always set on God and others. As the heart of Christ was open in obedient love to the Father, so too should our hearts be the same. Jesus’ love was a sacrificial love, he gave his life to redeem us so that we can share in eternal life. “No greater love can a man have for his friends than to lay down his life for them” (John 15:13). He calls each of us to be sacrificial like him, so that we can be a reflection of his love. Put simply, this call to sacrifice is a call to true Christian discipleship, marked by faithful service, and at times suffering. In the Gospels Jesus reminds us that we will discover true peace and happiness in this kind of love and selfless service, while a selfish life will only lead to unhappiness.

The word for love is agape in Greek or caritas in Latin and it is traditionally translated to charity in English. We need to use the word love cautiously because it can become rather well worn, tired or vague. It shouldn’t however because love is liberating and empowering, and it is love that marks us as Christian disciples.

Love is the light – and in the end, the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim and gives us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God.

Deus Caritas Est n.39

Sixth Sunday Easter-Year C

20160425-6th-sunday-img-lgeJohn 14:23-29

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him. Those who do not love me do not keep my words. And my word is not my own; it is the word of the one who sent me. I have said these things to you while still with you; but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you. Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me say: I am going away, and shall return. If you loved me you would have been glad to know that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you may believe.’

This Sunday’s Gospel serves as a precursor, both to the Ascension as well as the Feast of Pentecost and affirms explicitly the triune nature of God. “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.” No person of the Trinity is an optional extra for us. We cannot claim to love Jesus but not the Father, nor can we call upon the Holy Spirit for strength, guidance and courage and in turn ignore the presence of both the Father and the Son.

The Trinity is the greatest mystery of our faith. Though revealed to us by Jesus, and through Scared Scripture, it is still a difficult belief for all people, irrespective of age or learning. Through this Gospel we are drawn into the mystery of three distinct co-equal and co-eternal persons, namely the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Before returning to the Father Jesus assures his disciples “I will not leave you orphaned” (14:18) and guarantees them that they will be aided in their missionary work by the Holy Spirit, sent to them by the Father. Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Advocate, the one who defends us from evil and sin and who guides us into Truth, by helping us to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words, actions and miracles. In assuring his disciples, Jesus also assures us “do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” and we can take great solace in the fact that the Holy Spirit abides in us.

Not only does Jesus promise us the sending of the Advocate – the Holy Spirit – but he bequeaths to us the gift of peace, his peace. We are reminded of this special gift each and every time we go to Mass as the priest invites us to share this peace as a community. This is no ordinary peace, it is a peace “the world cannot give,” it is the peace of Christ. And so we are invited to share this peace, powerful and transcendent, with those around us.