Monday, March 25, 2013

Homily - Easter Sunday (Year C)

Easter Sunday (Year C)
                                           (THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD)

First Reading: Acts 10:43a, 37-43     Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4 OR 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8     Gospel Reading: John 20:1-9


Today is Easter Sunday, and on this feast day we joyfully celebrate the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the greatest and the most solemn feast in the Church, for the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest of all miracles – it proves that Jesus Christ is truly God. It is the feast of joy and triumph. It is the feast of Jesus' victory over sin and death. It is the feast of Jesus freeing us from the bondage of sin and death. It is the feast of Jesus transforming us and making us a new creation – He gives us a new heart and a new life in the Holy Spirit. 'Easter' literally means 'the feast of fresh flowers,' and we celebrate it as a feast of new life with intense pride and great jubilation.

Easter is a great mystery. How do we look at the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus?
Years ago, Larry, an old municipal lamplighter, engaged in putting out his lights one by one, was met by a reporter who asked him if he ever grew tired of his work in the cold dark night. “Never am I cheerless,” said the old man, “for there is always a light ahead of me to lead me on.” “But what do you have to cheer up when you have put out the last light?” asked the news writer. “Then comes the dawn,” said Larry, the lamplighter.
A man of the world might have asked Jesus the same question. One light after another did he put out – the lamp of popular acclaim, the lamp of patriotic approval, the lamp of ecclesiastical conformity – all for the sake of God's love which burned in his heart and showed him a better way. At last even the light of his life was to flicker out on the hill called Calvary. What then? We hear his voice, “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” and then the dawn came. And that is the Lord Jesus' Resurrection.

The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the basis of our Christian faith; i.e. all the basic doctrines of Christianity are founded on the truth of it. Therefore, those who challenge Christianity challenge the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. They try to bring different false allegations against its truth and reality.

So, did Jesus really rise from the dead???
No one saw Jesus rising from the dead, so we do not have a direct proof of the key event; but from the after-experiences of the event we can offer THREE pointers to show that Jesus really rose from the dead:

The Empty Tomb:
The first pointer for the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the empty tomb. The new tomb in which Jesus was buried was found empty. It was a new tomb; hence there was no mix up of bodies. There were the Roman guards and even they bore witness to the fact of the empty tomb. Besides, when the disciples were preaching about the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, no one brought as counter evidence the body parts or remains of Jesus, or even a tomb with someone’s body.
There is a story told of a Christian missionary and a Muslim having a conversation. The Muslim wanted to impress the missionary with what he considered to be the superiority of Islam. So he said, “When we go to Mecca, we at least find a coffin, but when you Christians go to Jerusalem, you find nothing but an empty tomb.” To this the believer replied, “That is just the difference, Mohammed is dead and in his coffin. But Christ is risen and all power in heaven and on earth is given to Him! He is alive forevermore!”
In the Gospel Reading of today from St. John, we have the experience of the empty tomb as a sign of Jesus' Resurrection to life. Jesus is risen; he is not there. This first day of the week is full of emotions and commotion. On that day, early in the morning, the discovery of the empty tomb sets all in motion: Mary Magdalene runs back to tell the disciples that the Lord's body is not in the tomb. That experience may have been very disappointing, but it was also a clear message that Christ is risen as he had said. The 'disciple whom Jesus loved' and Peter ran to the tomb and, although the 'beloved disciple' got there first, out of deference he let Peter go in before him. St. John, who writes the Gospel, tells us that he also entered into the empty tomb, and “he saw and he believed.” He believed that the Lord is risen indeed.

The Words of the Women:
The second pointer is women being the first witnesses of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Despite their differences in details, all gospel narratives are agreed upon the fact that women were the first witnesses of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. As we know in the Semitic cultures, women’s words had no value, as is the case even up to this day in some cultures. So if the disciples were framing a big lie about the Resurrection of Jesus they would not say and even record that the women were the first witnesses. The Resurrection event was such an undeniable miracle that it could not be weakened by the words of the women.
In today's Gospel we have St. John telling us that it was Mary Magdalene, a woman, who was the first witness of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

The Transformation of the Disciples:
And the third pointer is the transformation of the disciples. The Resurrection of the Lord Jesus threw a totally different light on the passion and death of Jesus. It led the disciples to a very different understanding of what at first seemed tragedy, disaster and failure. The experience of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus strengthened the faith of the disciples in the Risen Jesus, and completely transformed their lives. Because of the Resurrection, the disciples, who were at first paralyzed with fear of being arrested as accomplices of Jesus, suddenly made a complete turnaround and began boldly to proclaim that Jesus, who died on the Cross, was alive and with them. There is no doubt that their experience of the Spirit of the Risen Lord gave them that unshakable courage that they were ready even to die for this truth that they proclaimed. And when, in fact, they were arrested, persecuted and imprisoned, it became a cause of rejoicing that they were now even more closely related to the life experience of their Lord, sharing in his sufferings that they might share in his glory.
We have a clear example of the above in the First Reading of today from Acts of the Apostles, which is a book full of surprises. Here we see Peter, now a completely transformed man who denied Jesus during his trial and persecution, boldly, courageously and convincingly giving witness to the mystery of the Resurrection of the Lord.

Surely, we do not have a direct proof of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. But it is also true that the fact of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be anyway disproved either, and therefore it stands firm as ever. It is also important to be aware that the Resurrection is not simply the resuscitation of the body of Jesus which died on the Cross. No one SAW the Resurrection because there was nothing to SEE. The crucifixion is a historical event; the Resurrection is a faith event. The Risen Jesus enters a completely new way of living. The post-resurrection texts all indicate that. He is not recognized at first by even his intimate friends; he is everywhere in his new Body.

Now, Easter is not only concerned with recalling the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus or its impact on the first disciples but also with the meaning of this event for our own lives and for our faith. The celebration of Easter calls for a radical conversion, a radical purging on our part – as Jesus’ own disciples changed. In the Second Reading of today from the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul indicates this. In the celebration of the Pasch, the Jews used to throw out all the leavened bread they had and replace it with freshly baked unleavened bread. Yeast was regarded as a corrupting agent because of the fermentation process that leavened bread undergoes. So Paul tells us that we, too, as we celebrate our Christian Passover, are to become “a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be...having only the unleavened bread of integrity and truth.” The sign that we are truly sharing in the risen life of Jesus is that our lives and our behavior undergo a constant development. We not only believe, we not only proclaim, but we do what we believe and what we proclaim.

Again, Easter Sunday highlights not only our faith in the Resurrection, but we are also called to joyfully proclaim and witness our faith in the Risen Lord among us. Proclamation and witness are the two central themes running through today's Scripture Readings. “You are witnesses to my resurrection,” we hear Jesus' challenge ring in our ears. For the true disciple of Jesus there is a close and indivisible relationship between experiencing and proclaiming which fills him/her with the joy of the Risen Master and Lord, and that he/she simply must share that joy with others. Not to share our Easter joy and what it means to us is to leave Easter only half celebrated. For the true Christian, in fact, every day is an Easter Day lived joyfully in the close company of the Risen Lord.
Today, we solemnly celebrate Easter and joyfully acclaim - “THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED – LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD.” Jesus lives on! That is the message today. The empty tomb is the sign that points to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The empty tomb that greets Mary Magdalene, and then the Apostles Peter and John, becomes the place where our faith in the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus is born, a faith that becomes the cornerstone and the object of the apostolic preaching. It is a faith that brings transformation and necessarily leads the Christian to realize that it is no longer possible to live as before: having risen with Christ, we must all live a qualitatively new life. And this is the Good News of today.


Wish you all a Glorious & Joyous Easter.

Homily - Easter Vigil (Year C)

Easter Vigil (Year C)

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:2       Second Reading: Genesis 22:1-1       Third Reading: Exodus 14:15-15:1          Fourth Reading: Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28      Epistle Reading: Romans 6:3-11    Gospel Reading: Luke 24:1-12

The long 40 days of Lent has come to an end and the Great Pascal Triduum brings us to the Easter Vigil. Easter is at our doorsteps. We have gathered here tonight to participate in the Easter Vigil Mass. There are no words to describe the Easter Vigil. It is the Solemnity of Solemnities. Most blessed of all nights chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead. As we stand in vigil by Jesus' tomb, we keep ourselves ready to greet the Risen Lord, alive again, immortal.

The liturgical celebration of the Easter Vigil makes use of two eloquent signs that are related to the meaning and significance of the Resurrection:
The first sign is the fire that becomes light. Light is the most powerful and most primitive of all natural symbols. In the beginning, God said, let there be light. Even more, light is the universal metaphor for insight and understanding, for reason as opposed to ignorance, for freedom from darkness and bondage. Tonight we begin our Easter Vigil with a solemn ceremony of light and we light the Pascal Candle. The Paschal Candle is the symbol of Jesus, the Light of the World, who dispels all darkness and lights our way, as the Pillar of Fire once led the Israelite people into the Promised Land.
As the procession makes its way through the Church, shrouded in the darkness of the night, the light of the Paschal Candle becomes a wave of lights, and it speaks to us of Christ as the true morning star that never sets - the Risen Lord in whom light has conquered darkness.
The second sign is water. Everywhere water is a symbol of renewal, purification, restoration of life. We are re-born in water and the Spirit, children of a new creation. Tonight we have the solemn ceremony of the blessing of the Baptismal Font by dipping into it the Pascal Candle, symbolic of the Risen Christ. Then we proclaim solemnly our baptismal promises. Through the water of baptism our sins are washed away and we become a new creature as children of God through a new life in the Holy Spirit.
On the one hand, it recalls the waters of the Red Sea, decline and death, the mystery of the Cross. But now it is presented to us as spring water, a life-giving element amid the dryness. Thus it becomes the image of the sacrament of baptism, through which we become sharers in the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yet these great signs of creation, light and water, are not the only constituent elements of the liturgy of the Easter Vigil. Another essential feature is the ample encounter with the Words of Sacred Scripture that it provides. We have unusually altogether six readings from the Scripture today – four from the Old Testament, one from the Epistles and one from the Gospels, each relating to and explaining fully the meaning of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is because the Church wishes to offer us a panoramic view of whole trajectory of salvation history, starting with creation, passing through the election and the liberation of Israel to the testimony of the prophets by which this entire history is directed ever more clearly towards Jesus Christ. In the Liturgical tradition, all these readings were called prophecies. Even when they are not directly foretelling future events, they have a prophetic character, they show us the inner foundation and orientation of history. In this way they take us by the hand and lead us towards Christ, the Word of God, and show us the true Light.
In the First Reading of today, taken from the Book of Genesis, we hear about the creation story. This first creation however, was spoiled through the sin of Adam – and suffering and death came into the world. The resurrection of Jesus is the new creation. Jesus is the new Adam, who comes out victorious over sin and death though his resurrection.
In the Second Reading taken again from the Book of Genesis, we hear about God testing the faith of Abraham, by asking him to sacrifice his son Issac. Abraham passed the test; however God spared Isaac, his son. In the New Testament God too asked for the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, but He did not spare him; but He raised him from the dead. Accepting the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the test of our faith, as it is the foundation of Christian life and belief.
In the Third Reading taken from the Book of Exodus, we hear about the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea, which symbolizes their freedom from the slavery of Egypt. The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ brings us freedom from the slavery of sin and death.
In the Fourth Reading taken from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, we hear about God sprinkling clean water upon His people and removing their impurities and giving them a new heart and placing within them a new spirit. In the same way, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ purifies us and makes us anew.
In the Epistle Reading taken from the Letter to the Romans, St Paul speaks about Baptism. He says we who are baptized into Christ are baptized into his death, so that we might be raised in the newness of life by the glory of the Father. So, through baptism we die to our sin, become the children of God and receive a new life in the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke, we have the account of the event of the Resurrection itself. Early in the morning at daybreak, when the sabbath was over, the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus (Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Mary the mother of James and others unidentified) came with spices to the tomb where Jesus' body was laid. They saw that the stone was rolled back from the entrance of the tomb and on entering find the tomb empty. Puzzled as they were, two men in dazzling garments appeared and said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.” The women then return to proclaim the Good News.

There is an ancient legend which tells of a monk who is said to have found the crown of thorns that had mockingly encircled the brow of the Master. It goes on to tell how the saintly man carried it into the Chapel of the Cathedral on Good Friday morning and set it upon the altar. What a ghastly looking thing it was – rugged, cruel and stained with blood. It was no wonder his flock merely glanced at it for a moment of their devotions and turned away sick at its ugliness. But it was a true symbol of Good Friday. All the ugliness of men's hearts which crucified the Lord, all the physical horrors, the mental nausea and spiritual torture through which our Lord passed were indicated in the crown of mockery that he wore.
Very early Easter morning the monk hurried to the Chapel to remove the symbol of sin, suffering and death. He knew it would be strangely out of place in the glory of the resurrection morning. Imagine his surprise when, opening the door, he found the place full of beautiful fragrance. At first all he saw was the sun shining through a stained glass window directly upon the altar upon which the thorns lay. Fixing his gaze upon the altar, he saw the crown of thorns. But the thorns and barrenness of the twisted twigs had undergone a marvellous transformation – the whole thing had blossomed into roses of a rarest beauty and the most delicate fragrance. The symbol of crucifixion and death had become the emblem of loveliness and life.

Today, we solemnly celebrate Easter and joyfully proclaim - “CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD. ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA!” Jesus lives on! There is no grave-site for Jesus. His bones have not disintegrated in the ground. He rose from the dead. That is the message of today. He has been transformed, just as we can and will be transformed. He has destroyed the idea that death is finality, infinite nothingness. He has so loved us that he gave his life for us and gave his life to us. The Resurrection of Christ is a pledge of our own resurrection. It is the foundation upon which our faith rests. It is the guarantee of our own resurrection and God's assurance that our sins are forgiven and that we are called to eternal life. So this is a joyful day, a day of great hope.
But the truth of the Resurrection is supposed to transform us. Just as Jesus broke through the rock into the freedom of new life, so this feast is meant to free our souls to the possibilities of sin-free living. Instead of Easter as the conclusion of Lent, it's the beginning of a new and more disciplined life, focused on holding firm to habits of prayer and devout living we found so refreshing during these last six weeks. Everything about Jesus' glorious breakthrough from death has implications for us. The Christian needs to celebrate this day because it is something remarkable to remember and celebrate. The fact that we celebrate it in the Spring is a reminder that nature also comes back to life. We look at the fresh growth of the trees and flowers, the greening of the world, and we know that we shall experience the same thing. And this is the Good News of today.

Wish you all a Joyous & Glorious Easter.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Homily - Good Friday of the Lord's Passion (Year C)

Good Friday of the Lord's Passion (Year C)

First Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12      Second Reading: Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9      Gospel Reading: John 18:1-19:42


Two brothers lived together in the same apartment. The elder brother was honest, hardworking and God-fearing man, while the younger was dishonest, gun totting substance abusing rogue. Many a night the younger brother would come back into the apartment late, drunk and with lot of cash – and the elder brother would spend hours pleading him to mend his ways and live a decent life. But the younger brother would not listen.
One night, the younger brother came running into the house with a smoking gun and his clothes were blood stained. “I killed a man,” he announced. In a few minutes the house was surrounded by police and two brothers knew there was no escape. “I did not mean to kill him,” stammered the younger brother, “and I don't want to die.” By now the police was knocking at the door. The elder brother had an idea. He exchanged his clothes with the blood stained clothes of his killer brother. The police arrested him, tried him and he was condemned to death. So he died for his younger brother out of his love for him.

Yes, Jesus also gave his life for us, so that we might be saved. He took upon himself our guilt. For our sake, he suffered and died on the cross. All this, because he loves us immensely. We do not require any further proof of Jesus' love for us, do we? - “There is no greater love, than to lay down one's life for one's friends.”

Today is “Good Friday,” the second day of the 'Pascal Triduum.' On this day, the Church, in a most solemn way, commemorates the suffering and death on the cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today, there is no Mass. Instead, in sorrow, the Church mourns her Master’s death and reverences the Cross on which our salvation was achieved. Let us then come together in meditative faith around the Cross on Calvary, and reflect calmly and serenely with great devotion on the final hours of Christ’s earthly life.

In the beginning of Holy Week, on Palm Sunday, we listened to the story of Jesus' passion and death according to St. Luke. Today, on Good Friday, we have it according to St. John. As a matter of fact, it is St. John's Passion account which is read each year as the centerpiece of the Good Friday liturgy. Although the Passion Narratives of all four Gospels are similar in many ways, there are also significant differences among them, for each Gospel writer brings his own perspective to the story of Jesus’ passion and death. So also, St. John's Passion Narrative exhibits some surprising differences in events and sequences; and most importantly, it is a testimony of an 'eye witness.'
For St. John, Jesus is the revelation of God's love for the world, the 'word made flesh,' - whose death on the cross is a mystery of love. This is the mystery of incarnation and redemption. John's entire passion story tells that the tragedy of violent death is overwhelmed by the power of redemptive love. In freely and willingly giving his life 'for his friends' - the most noble of human actions - Jesus fulfills his mission of revealing God's overwhelming love for the world. St. John's portrayal of the passion, with its masterful blend of suffering and triumph, fits well into the spirit of the Paschal Triduum.

St. John’s particular focus is the majesty with which Jesus conducts himself throughout, from the time of his arrest, through his two trials, to his hours hanging on the cross. He omits any report of Jesus’ suffering and anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is in perfect command even at the moment of his arrest, which is a tale of terror, betrayal by a friend, a violent night-time arrest of an innocent person, the abuse of power by armed authorities. Jesus freely chooses to place himself before his enemies, he restrains Peter from any violence on his behalf and lets his disciples leave. Moreover, there is the portrayal of Jesus carrying his own cross all the way to Golgotha without any reference to Simon of Cyrene. Also, using the haunting symbolism of the bronze serpent from the story of Moses in Numbers, John presents the crucifixion as a 'lifting up' - not just the lifting up of the crucified body of Jesus in the torment of death, but through that death, a 'lifting up' that is a triumphant exaltation. And finally, the last words “It is finished” before Jesus expires upon the cross, speak of the completion of his mission to save mankind by revealing God's love for the world. All these illustrate how John chose to portray Jesus as strong, in control and divine.

St. John mentions two trials. The first is before Annas, where he is interrogated in preparation for his formal trial before Pilate, the Roman procurator. A potent symbol that emerges from the trial is that of the 'Kingship' of Jesus. Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” But Jesus says his sovereignty is not of this world.
The motif of Kingship intensifies in the concluding scenes. When the crowd selects Barabbas, a revolutionary, to be freed, Pilate has Jesus scourged. The soldiers perform a cruel coronation parody: after beating Jesus they crown him with thorns, robe him in purple and offer mock homage: "Hail, King of the Jews!" The scene ends with the crowds demanding Jesus be crucified. Pilate leads Jesus out and sits on the judgment seat. "Behold your king," he says to taunt the crowds, but they reply that they have no king but Caesar.
The climax of the passion comes on Golgotha (the Place of the Skull) where Jesus is crucified. The moment of crucifixion is an enthronement. Over the cross emblazoned in Hebrew, Latin and Greek is the title: "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews." Even though the chief priests protest, Pilate is adamant - this will be the title of the Crucified Jesus.
The finale is reached as Jesus' crucified body is taken from the cross for burial. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus come to bury him. They bring an enormous amount of spices - enough for a royal burial! Both men lay aside their fear and openly pay homage to the crucified Jesus. Those in the darkness are now coming out into the light. God's Word of love has triumphed over death.

St. John vividly portrays Jesus as the 'Lamb of God' slain for the world. He says “it was about noon” on the Preparation Day for the Passover when Pilate condemned Jesus to death and handed him over to his enemies. We know that at noon the priests of the Temple would begin the slaughter of the lambs for Passover. All was coming to pass, as it had been foretold. The Lamb of God was being led to the slaughter.
Again, by not breaking Jesus' legs, the executioners unwittingly fulfill the words of the Scripture in reference to the 'passover lamb.' However, to make sure Jesus is dead, one of the soldiers drives a lance into his side - and 'blood' and 'water' stream from the body of Jesus. This is to fulfill the Scripture passage from the Prophet Zechariah: 'They will look upon him whom they have pierced.' The symbol of water refers to the Spirit which gives life to mankind, not just mortal life but everlasting life. The blood represents the humanity of Jesus and refers to atoning for sins of the world. All these signs confirm the redemptive power of Jesus' death.
In the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we hear about the 'Suffering Servant of Yahweh,' who is treated brutally, humiliated, shamed & disfigured beyond imagination, and who endures terrible suffering - “ a lamb he was led to the slaughter, he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins…” Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when he embraced the cross for our sake.

St. John's account of the Passion is also filled with priestly imagery. Recall that the tunic Jesus wore “… was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down”. From Jewish writings of the 1st Century, we know that the garment worn by the High Priest of the Temple was a seamless robe. John is speaking in this precious detail of Jesus’ offering and his priesthood.
This same theme is complemented and elaborated in the Second Reading of today from the Letter to the Hebrews. Jesus is the perfect High Priest, because the sacrifice he offers is himself for the forgiveness of our sins. He is a unique High Priest, whose priesthood is characterized in three ways: by Christ’s sympathy for human weakness as the result of his own experiences; by God’s answer to Christ’s prayer for deliverance; and very importantly by Christ learning obedience - “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Certainly one must look at the cross in two distinct but complementary directions. The first is the 'God to man' direction. Here the cross is understood to be God’s act of salvation, that magnificent and supremely generous pouring out of love by which man is redeemed. And the second is the 'man to God' direction. This means that in addition to the cross as an expression of God’s act of salvation in identifying perfectly with sinners, the cross is also man’s perfect offering of obedience, obedience to the will of God. In other words, the real sacrifice which God demands of man is the perfect offering of himself in obedience.

Finally, we are left with two final actions of Jesus before he gives up his life hanging on the cross:
The first involves his mother and his beloved disciple, who are standing at the foot of the cross. Looking at his mother Jesus says, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he says to his beloved disciple, “Behold your mother.” This way Jesus gives his mother to be the mother of the Church, and also to be our mother – the beloved disciple representing both the Church and us believers.
Secondly, at the brink of death, Jesus says, “I thirst.” Considering the situation, it definitely speaks of a physical need; but John says it was to fulfill the Scriptures. However, it also implies that Jesus Christ always thirsts for us as we are. He thirsts to love us and he thirsts to be loved by us.

Today on Good Friday, when we commemorate the suffering and death on the cross of our Lord and Savior, we are called not to endure the cross, not to put-up with the cross, but rather to 'embrace' the cross. The suffering of Jesus gives meaning to our own sufferings. It was through his acceptance of suffering and death that Jesus brought us life and liberation. We cannot ask God to give us a life without pain or sorrow. Nor should we feel he does not care about us because such things happen. He has not promised any other way for us his followers. "Anyone who wants to be my follower must take up his cross every day and walk after me."
Lastly, suffering and death may be punishment for sin and wrongdoing, true. But more than this, it is part of God’s plan for the salvation of all. Good Friday tells us that suffering is not just a curse, an infliction, a meaningless waste. In the person of Jesus and in the lives of his saints, it can become a vocation and mission to save the people, to save mankind. Therefore, when we leave here today, let us not forget what Jesus endured for us. Let us never forget it! Each time we look at a crucifix, let us remember that the look on the face of Jesus was not a look of pain and suffering. It was a look of love, a love for each and everyone of us. Just as his sacrifice is only explained by love, so our entire existence can have no other foundation. To be Christian is to live for him and for others, not for ourselves - “THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE, THAN TO LAY DOWN ONE'S LIFE FOR ONE'S FRIENDS.” And this is the Good News of today.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Homily - Holy Thursday (Year C)

Holy Thursday (Year C)

First Reading: Exodus 12:1-8,11-14    Second Reading: 1Corinthians 11:23-26    Gospel Reading: John 13:1-15


'The Stole and the Towel' is the title of a book, which sums up the message of the Italian bishop, Tony Bello, who died of cancer at the age of 58. On Holy Thursday of 1993, while on his deathbed, he dictated a pastoral letter to the priests of his diocese. He called upon them to be bound by 'the stole and the towel.' The stole symbolizes union with Christ in the Eucharist, and the towel symbolizes union with humanity by service. The priest thus is called upon to be united with the Lord in the Eucharist and with the people as their servant.

Today is Holy Thursday, the first day of 'Pascal Triduum.' From a historical point of view, on this evening we commemorate “Our Lord's Last Supper” with his disciples and celebrate the institution of both the Holy Eucharist and the Ministerial Priesthood - the feast of 'The Stole and the Towel,' the feast of 'Love and Service.' Today's Scripture Readings cover the whole sweep of what today's feast means.

The First Reading of today from the Book of Exodus speaks about the first Hebrew passover meal. This meal was, and still is a commemoration of one of the greatest events in the history of the Israelites as God's people, namely, their liberation from slavery in Egypt. Passover feast is celebrated by the Jewish communities round the world every year and Passover meal is a re-enactment of that hasty meal the Israelite people had to take before their flight across the Red Sea from Egypt. A flight from slavery to freedom and liberation. The meal is full of symbols - the lamb eaten whole, the blood of the lamb painted on the door posts, the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, eating the meal standing and dressed ready for a long journey. It is a sacred remembering of God's great act to liberate them from slavery and the beginning of their long trek to the Promised Land.

This Passover meal obviously was a very special occasion. It was no coincidence that it was precisely during the celebration of this private Passover meal with his disciples that Jesus instituted what we now call the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. And along with this, he also instituted the Sacrament of the Ministerial Priesthood.
In the Second Reading of today in his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul recalls what Jesus did during that Passover meal, that Last Supper. Jesus transformed his Last Supper into the first Eucharistic celebration - “While they were eating Jesus took the Bread, said the blessing, broke it and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat, this is my Body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks and gave it to them saying, Drink from it all of you for this is the blood of the covenant which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.' Jesus thus instituted the Holy Eucharist as the sign and reality of God’s perpetual presence with His people as their living, heavenly food, in the form of bread and wine. This was followed by the institution of the Ministerial Priesthood with the command, “Do this in memory of me."
Here is the link between the Hebrew and the Christian Covenants. There is no mention of a lamb because there is a new lamb, Jesus himself is the Pascal Lamb. He served as both the Host and the Victim of a sacrifice and became the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world. He is the sacrificial victim of the New Covenant whose blood will adorn the wood of the cross. In this meal, the emphasis is on the unleavened bread and Body, on wine and Blood. This meal becomes now the sacrament of a new liberation, not just from physical slavery, but from every kind of slavery, especially that of sin and evil, through the broken Body of Jesus and his poured out Blood on the cross. This becomes the basis for the celebration of the Eucharist, which is at the heart of all our Christian living.

In the Gospel Reading of today, we have the Evangelist John's account of the Last Supper, and its choice is very significant. At first sight, it may seem rather a strange choice for this evening when the institution of the Eucharist isn't mentioned at all. St. John in his Last Supper account makes no mention of the bread being Jesus' Body and the wine being his Blood. Instead, we have the totally unexpected act of Jesus, 'washing the feet of his disciples,' a service assigned to household servants, and concluding the ceremony with a long speech incorporating his 'commandment of love' - “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Washing of the feet of his disciples is actually a prophetic action of Jesus, which we re-enact and re-present in our liturgy this evening. It is a powerful sign of readiness to be of 'loving service' to others. Before sitting down to the Paschal meal, getting down on his knees and washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus, Lord and Master, gave us all a lesson in humble service. While he washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus was only too aware of the bickering among his disciples as to who was the greatest, and who should rank before the other. The disciples have yet to learn that in the Kingdom, in the world of Christ, the leader is one who serves. It is a message for us priests, parents, teachers, employers, managers, chief executives...
At the end Jesus asks, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should do also do.” Commanding his disciples to do the same echoes the words at the Eucharist, "Do this in remembrance of me."
So, the first thing Jesus wanted his friends to remember him by was his service. Not a grudging, unwilling, compulsory service, but a service born out of love. No tokenism here. Being really at the beck and call of others, allowing oneself to be used and abused, as servants are. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for the ransom of many.”

The Gospel Reading of today is not out of point and place as it may appear at first sight; it is actually in perfect harmony with the other two Scripture Readings, for Eucharist and loving service to others go together. There is obviously a clear and important link here between the two. We cannot choose one over the other. Just as we are nourished by the body and blood of Jesus, we are also called to nourish others materially and spiritually. Just as the body of Jesus is broken up for us, we are also called to be broken up for others. Our Christian living is a seamless robe between Gospel, liturgy and daily life and interaction. There is something lacking if we are devout in our regular attendance at Mass but our lives are lived individualistically and selfishly. There is also something lacking if we are totally committed to caring for others but never gather in community to remember, give thanks and break the bread together.
Our Eucharist only becomes real after we leave the church. If the celebration of the Eucharist stops at the Church door, it is a sign and celebration of nothing. It is a kind of sacrilege to claim to recognize Christ in the bread and wine and not in those around us. The Eucharist, if it is to be real, is essentially the sign of a living, loving, mutually serving community of brothers and sisters. A living, loving community celebrates and strengthens what it is through the Eucharist. It is this spirit of love and service of brothers and sisters which is to be the outstanding characteristic of the Christian disciple. And this is the true living out of the Eucharistic celebration. To have one without the other is not to live the Gospel.

Finally, the events of Holy Thursday night occurred once in time. However, the events of that one day are eternal. The actions and words of that day echo throughout all of time. What Jesus did on that day comes down through all of time and takes in everyone and everything. Jesus loved each of us then. He loved us into the love of the Father. He loved us into salvation. Jesus loves each of us now too. The love Jesus shows is limited neither by time or space - it cannot be, because that love is eternal even though it appeared on earth in a moment of time. Time and eternity came together on that night - time and eternity were sandwiched together in the events of Holy Week. His love knows no boundaries and therefore we gratefully proclaim - “HE LOVED HIS OWN IN THE WORLD AND HE LOVED THEM TO THE END.”