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Click here for Fr Daniel's Easter Triduum 2014 Homilies
 
Fr Andrew's Homilies
6th Sunday of Easter (C)                   5th May 2013

 
Set your minds (set your affections) on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.  Colossians 3:2-3
AT THE head of every set of readings in my Sunday Missal is a helpful paragraph, explaining what we are in for this week.  All the different publishers seem to do it.  The Sunday Missal of forty years ago went so far as to give each Sunday a theme, as if the readings were a kind of Sunday School class.  It was the same in the Church of England.  Today, I remember, was called ‘Going to the Father’.   That fits nicely with today’s Gospel, ‘you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father’ and points to the Ascension, which we celebrate next. But nowadays we realise that nothing can be pinned down to one theme or paragraph.  The readings at Mass are not simply religious instruction – though that is one thing that happens – but other things too.  The evangelical clergyman, W H Vanstone, in his great book, Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, remarks that the task of a preacher and a sermon is primarily doxological, that is, to give glory to God, not to instruct the congregation. 
My own view is that we can pile up the benefits of studying the Scriptures and listening to sermons.  Certainly there is a strong element of doxology, doing all this, as Bach wrote on his manuscripts, ad maiorem Dei gloriam, to the greater glory of God.  Certainly also there is an element of instruction.  But I think there is a third element too, what one might call the ‘affective’, that is, to do with our ‘affections’.   There are emotions and feelings that we need to learn to explore.  Lectio divina,  as defined by Wikipædia, is ‘a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer, intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's Word.  It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as the Living Word.’  It is this way of reading – affective engagement, engaging the affections – which we automatically do to some extent, but probably not nearly enough.  To give you a couple of examples, you can hardly hear the story of the angels at Bethlehem without experiencing deep emotions – about childhood, about Christmas, about universal Peace.  You can hardly hear the story of the meeting of the Risen Christ with St Mary Magdalene on the first Easter Day without a rush of feeling arising from the fragrance of the meeting.
 
A very simple example of ‘affective’ meditation is the passage from Pope Emeritus Benedict at the top of today’s readings in the CTS New Sunday Missal.  ‘Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’, says Pope Benedict, is ‘an implicit spiritual portrait of the Virgin Mary’.  These words, he says, ‘are addressed to the disciples but can be applied to a maximum degree precisely to the One who was the first and perfect disciple of Jesus’.   And that is a good thought for this month of May, the month of Mary.  He goes on to say, Mary showed that she loved her Son ‘not only as a mother, but first of all as a humble and obedient handmaid.  For this reason God the Father loved her and the Most Holy Trinity made its dwelling-place in her’.   I don’t know about you, but, for me, that makes me think affectively, it engages my affections, the right hand side of my brain.
 
No Sunday’s readings can be reduced to a paragraph, still less to one theme, so I want to say something else about ‘Going to the Father’, which, as I said, is broadly where we are on the Sunday before Ascension.  And my reflection is this. It is about keeping going, living and dying, journeying on – trudging through the Wilderness – and arriving in the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey.  It is the Passover experience, the Pasch.  We start off in bondage in Egypt – as the story of the Hebrews tells us – and, after the plagues and the slaughter of the Passover Lamb, we finally arrive in the Promised Land.  Some of us can remember the bondage – an ill-spent youth, a period of addiction – but most of us here can remember only the Wilderness, keeping going.  As Christians we turn the Exodus into ‘Onward Christian soldiers’, and battle on, sometimes discouraged, sometimes heartened.  We identify all too readily with those crisis moments when the Israelites were dying of hunger, fainting with thirst, plagued by serpents, and, with our affections, we can identify with the despair of those moments.  We also take delight in the manna and the quails, the water from the Rock, the bronze serpent, set up as a standard in battle, the crucifix on the Rood Screen.  But there are times when we can’t see beyond that – and, because we can never see beyond, there are times when we are not even sure that there is a ‘beyond’. 
 
All of this is in the phrase ‘Going to the Father’.  Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for us.  However disheartened we get, whether we believe it or not as we journey on, there is a place for us.   And so, a couple of quotations which certainly get my emotions going.  The first, from the Letter to the Colossians, is my favourite Easter text – not least because it was hauntingly set by Orlando Gibbons, and I took a phrase from it as a text:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds (set your affections) on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
 
The second is from the Preface at Mass today.  Listen out for the phrases ‘children of light’ ‘rise to eternal life’ ‘halls of the heavenly Kingdom thrown open’:
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, at all times to acclaim you, O Lord, but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously, when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.  Through him the children of light rise to eternal life and the halls of the heavenly Kingdom are thrown open to the faithful; for his Death is our ransom from death, and in his rising the life of all has risen. 

 

 

 

4th Sunday of Easter (C)       

I and the Father are one.  John 10:30
IN EXODUS chapter 3, as Moses is keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, God reveals himself to Moses ‘in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush’.  God says to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he says to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”,’ (v. 14).  We need to keep in our minds several things here.  For one thing, Moses is serving as a shepherd.  For another, God reveals himself in a burning bush, a bush not consumed by the fire – a present moment, not a moment where something starts and finishes.  Third, God tells Moses his Name: I AM WHO I AM.  God is entirely in the present.  He has no history, no beginning.  He has no future, no ending.  He is the Eternal Present.  Fourth, God reveals himself to send Moses on a mission:  ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”.’ 
If we are going to begin to understand the significance of this incident, we have to remember all these four things.  Let’s put them in a slightly different order, as you do with the Lottery balls on a Saturday night.   God chooses to reveal himself.  There is no need for him to do so.  The whole universe could function without us ever discovering anything about God, who he is and what he does.  And, in fact, some people do think that the whole thing happens without God.  Second, God reveals himself as the Eternal Present, I AM WHO I AM.  That is the Name he gives himself.   It is the Sacred Name, and in its Hebrew form, as in the Jerusalem Bible not for reading aloud, it is a Name which is it is forbidden to utter aloud in Hebrew and Catholic worship.  In fact, in the Hebrew Bible, the vowels used are those of another word, so that whenever the Sacred Name appears in the scrolls, the reader says Adonaï instead.  The Sacred Name has four consonants – Yod, He, Waw and He, or, as we would say, Y, H, W, H.  This tetragrammaton – these four letters – are translated as LORD in the English Bible and Lectionary, and, to indicate the tetragrammaton, the word LORD is given with the four capital letters.
We need to understand all that if we are going to understand the significance of what Jesus says about himself in St John’s Gospel.  On this Good Shepherd Sunday  - and, remember,  God revealed himself to Moses whilst he was watching over the sheep, and, for that matter, the angels of Bethlehem announced the coming of Jesus ‘while shepherds watched their flocks by night’ – we think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  As our Alleluia verse tells us, ‘I AM the good shepherd, says the Lord: I know my own sheep and my own know me’.  But the mention of shepherds and sheep should not distract us from the most important thing in the sentence.  Jesus says, ‘I AM’.  We are encountering God himself.  It is God himself who is speaking.  Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us.  The Risen Lord, in our midst, is God himself in our midst.
And it is in St John’s Gospel that we discover most not only about Jesus but about God.  This is clear from the verse we began with, the last verse of today’s Gospel (John 10:30): ‘I and the Father are one’, says Jesus.  This is not the first time we come across this.  There are a several places in St John’s Gospel where Jesus tells us this in other words.  For example, (John 8:58) Jesus says this to the Jewish leaders: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM’.   Calling himself by the Divine Name was blasphemy, in their view, and the religious authorities ‘took up stones to throw at him’, to stone him to death but he hid himself.  And then (John 14), answering the very modern-sounding religious doubts of Philip – ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied’ – Jesus says, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip?  He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father?”  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?’
And, of course, we discover exactly who Jesus is in the very first verse of St John’s Gospel:  ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’   And so it should not be too much of a surprise to discover Jesus calling himself ‘I AM’.  The Methodist scholar, Margaret Barker, goes further and suggests that whenever we meet God in the Old Testament – Moses at the Burning Bush for example – the One whom we meet is Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity.  As she sees it, God the Father is One whom we never meet, except through Jesus.  No wonder Cardinal Schönborn describes him, in a book with the title ‘The Human Face of God’.
In Hebrew thought, seven is the perfect number – and so it is no surprise to discover in St John’s Gospel that there are seven discourses in which Jesus describes himself as ‘I AM��.  ‘I AM the bread of life’ John 6:35.   ‘I AM the light of the world’ John 8:12. ‘I AM the door [of the sheepfold]’ John 10:9.  ‘ I AM the good shepherd’  John 10:11.  ‘I AM the resurrection and the life’ John 11:25.  ‘I AM the way, and the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, but by me’ John 14:6. ‘I AM the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser’ John 15:1.
On Good Shepherd Sunday, we focus on the image of the Shepherd, on pastoral work (the work of the shepherd), on vocations to the priesthood, and on how ideas of the shepherd and his sheep and the flock gathering for pasture (the congregation), permeate the Bible.  And all that is important.  Most important of all, though, is for us to  understand that Jesus the Risen Lord is the Eternal Word, the Eternal Present, and that, in him, we encounter God Himself, for as Jesus himself says, I and the Father are one.   That is Whom we meet, the One who condescends to be consumed, in the Blessed Sacrament, in Holy Communion.

 
 
3rd Sunday of Easter (C)       

Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘…do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’  A second time he said to him, ‘…do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’  He said to him the third time, ‘… do you love me?’ Peter was grieved …and… said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.’ … And after this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’                            
                                                                                     John 21
ST JOHN’S GOSPEL has had a huge variety of interpretations.  It is very different from the other three gospels – the scene, the stories, the style – leading some commentators to conclude that, sublime though its theology is, it isn’t very reliable as a historical document.  Other commentators have taken exactly the opposite view: in all kinds of detail, they say, St John puts us right, historically, where others are not quite right.  An example is the events of Holy Week, where Matthew, Mark and Luke have the Lord eating the Passover meal – the Last Supper - with the disciples, whereas John puts the meal the night before the Passover so that, as the Lord dies on the cross, the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple.  The Church here follows John’s Gospel.
In the Resurrection account in John 21, those of us who are looking out for symbolism will notice that seven of the disciples are involved – and seven of course is a holy number – and that, when they are persuaded to catch fish, the disciples catch 153, representing all the species of fish in the known world.  These fishers of men – once they break away from their rather dispirited return to work as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee – will be on a mission to all nations, to all species of mankind in the known world.
 
And - more symbolism - we notice that Simon Peter, the leader of the merry band, is three times challenged by Jesus to say whether he truly loves him.  He is commissioned to  Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.  The threefold affirmation of love exactly matches up the threefold denial before the cock crew. The leader of the apostolic band, who deserted Jesus when he was arrested and, when he crept back to see what had happened, denied even knowing him, is now three-times invited to express his love and his commitment.   More than that, far from as when he was young, girding himself and walking where he would, in old age, says Jesus, ‘another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.’   There won’t be any running away at that point, though the film Quo vadis? imagines Peter escaping from persecution in Rome. As he leaves, he meets Jesus who is travelling into Rome to die again.  Shamed once more, Peter goes back to the Imperial City to face crucifixion. 
 
Some of us have been watching Fr Robert Barron’s excellent series Catholicism – we’re halfway through - and I hope that, before the Year of Faith is out, there will be chance for more of you to watch it.  The production values are outstanding.  There is a memorable point when we find ourselves in St Peter’s Square - the Pope on the balcony and the crowds below - when Fr Barron tellingly contrasts the long-gone glory of Ancient Rome, and the Emperors, with the vitality of the Catholic Church under the successors of Peter.  Weakness triumphs over strength.  Love over military might.  Service over subjection.
 
Since that DVD came out, we have had a change of Pope, a change of Peter.  There is wild speculation about what we are in for.  Some of the media seem to suggest that Pope Francis will be progressive in all sorts of ways.  Others take a different view: one cartoon said, ‘The first Jesuit Pope: the first Latin American Pope: the 266th conservative Pope’.  We just don’t know.  But there are some themes emerging.   I was reading this week about the proceedings of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in Brazil, in 2007, which was headed up by the then Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis.  One archbishop who served with him there saw him ‘as a serene man, solid, serious in his work, a man who went to the heart of the matter.’ Another identified three themes in that conference which have already emerged in Pope Francis’ homilies:  ‘the personal encounter with Christ, the option for the poor, and stewardship of creation’.
 
These three themes are at the heart of the matter.  ‘The personal encounter with Christ’ is everything for us.  It is why we come to Mass, rather than just learn about the Faith from books and on the internet.  It is at Mass that we meet him, just as the disciples ate with the Risen Christ on the shore of Galilee.  We meet him together, in the sacrament, and in each other.  ‘The option for the poor’ reminds us that we have a duty not just to the poor ‘out there’ –in other countries – but we have a duty towards those who live nearby and in our midst.  And ‘the stewardship of creation’ is there, right at the beginning of the Bible, when God entrusts us with all he has made. 
 
In the Popes of recent years we have received some remarkable gifts.  Pope John Paul I, whose simplicity and kindness will be remembered for a long, long time, despite the shortness of his time as pope – barely a month.  Pope John Paul II, the philosopher pope, whose global ministry included not least the ending of the Cold War.  Pope Benedict, whose towering intellect and passion for the restoration of the Liturgy have given us a library of ideas and a renewal of beauty and music.  Now Pope Francis who has reminded an iconic age of what it was that St Francis of Assisi gave to the Church, well summed up by the phrase ‘the personal encounter with Christ, the option for the poor, and stewardship of creation’.  But we shall have to see.
 
The Risen Lord concludes his charge to Peter with two words, words which re-echo through the centuries and challenge us – you and me – each day, and as we gather for Mass each Sunday: ‘Follow me’.

 

Easter Vigil 2013 


Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.  1 Pet 1:8-9


WORDS from the First Letter of St Peter, a letter which generally thought to be an extended sermon on Baptism.  Here he is, addressing the first believers, those who were not actually present at, not witnesses of, the Resurrection but who, like us, two thousand years later, have come to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the hope of eternal life and immortality, what St Peter calls ‘the salvation of [our] souls’.  We love him without seeing him.  We believe in him without seeing him  We rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy, even though the One who fills our hearts with gladness is One whom we have not seen.
 
Leaving that idea at the back of our minds, I want us now to think about one word: ‘Remember’.  It’s a word which allows us to cross huge distances in time.  If we remember the story of Abraham, we are remembering something that took place 4,000 years ago.  If we remember looking at a fossil, we are remembering something that existed, a long time even before that.  More often, though, ‘remembering’ is what we say about our own past life, the days, weeks, months, or years that have gone by.  And they tell me that very old people remember seventy or eighty years ago much more clearly than they remember seven or eight years earlier.
 
St Luke uses the word ‘remember’ at several key points in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles.  Listen to it again as we heard it in tonight’s Gospel.  The angels in St Luke’s account of the Resurrection are talking to the women who have come to the tomb and found the stone rolled away:
 
Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise. 
 
‘Remember’ sometimes has an everyday, and banal, meaning.  ‘Remember to load the dishwasher before you go to bed’.  ‘Remember to buy some more washing powder when you go to Waitrose’. But, as St Luke uses it, ‘remember’ has a much stronger meaning.  It means ‘remember what happened yesterday, and as you concentrate on remembering it today, let it really change what happens tomorrow’.  The women were reminded to remember what Jesus had told them about dying and rising again.  Remembering what he had said, as they looked at the tomb with the stone rolled back, would change their lives for ever.  This wasn’t the tomb of a dead man.  It was the tomb of someone who had risen from the dead, as he promised.
 
‘Remembering’ is at the root of the Jewish Passover.  It is also a vital dynamic of the Mass, the Christian Passover.  The Jewish Passover happens every year, at more or less the same time as Easter.  The Jews go for the actual day of the full moon, and the Jewish Seder this year was accordingly at the beginning of this week.  We Catholic Christians go for the Sunday following the full moon.  Orthodox Christians, following an earlier Calendar, usually go for a later date, a lunar month later.  As we could not help but noticing on Thursday night, the Jewish Passover is a way of remembering that God brought his people out from slavery in Egypt and led them to a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.  As Jewish people remember this, year by year, at the Passover meal, it changes how they feel about things and helps them believe and trust in God’s promises for the future.  It helps them believe that he will be with them at their side, that the Messiah will come, and that Israel will flourish. 
 
What we have been celebrating these last three days is properly understood as an extended celebration of the Christian Passover.  We had the Supper on Thursday.  We had the Sacrifice of Christ, the Passover Lamb, on Friday, and now, in the Night of the Resurrection, the Deliverance from the Slavery of Sin and Death and the journey, through Baptism and Confirmation, to the Promised Land of Eternal Life.  Three days.  Three events.  Together constituting the Christian Passover.   Brought together, day by day, in Holy Mass – Supper, Sacrifice, and Salvation.
 
So, in the Mass, as in Jewish Passover, we do our remembering.  We remember that Jesus had supper with his friends before he died, that he promised to give his friends his Body and Blood whenever they meet to remember him.  He died on the Cross as a perfect sacrifice for sin and rose from the dead to be with us for ever. We remember all this when we take communion and it brings the first Easter, from way back in the past, right into the present, and, if we allow it, it changes our lives.  But there is one important difference between the Jewish Passover and the Christian Passover, the Mass.  When we receive Holy Communion, we don’t just remember the past.  The Risen Christ is here in our midst.  He speaks to us in the Gospel, shares the Peace with us, and feeds us on himself - body, blood and divinity - when we receive our communion.  Nor is the future dimension missing.  The appearance of Christ in our midst in the Canon of the Mass, and his abiding Presence with us in the Tabernacle, are a foretaste of the Parousia, the Second Coming, when, as we say in the Creed, ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end’.  And so we can say, confidently, that, though we have not seen the Risen Christ, we can indeed see him in the Blessed Sacrament, the Host, and we can love him because of his Presence with us.  We can not only see him but ‘believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy’. And we can say that, ‘as the outcome of [our] faith we obtain the salvation of [our] souls’. 
 
And so, we remember these special words from Peter’s First Letter, with which I began:
 
Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.  
 
We believe in him and rejoice in him because he is with us here in the most holy sacrament of the altar. May the indescribable and glorious joy described by Peter, and proclaimed ever since by his successors and the successors of all the apostles, be yours this Easter and throughout the rest of your lives, as you love the One who can’t be seen but in whom we believe.
 
Alleluia!  Christ is risen.               He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

 

Good Friday 2013                

THE PASSION AND DEATH of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as arousing within us a sense of devotion and awe, also brings a certain discomfort, and even fear.  Is that the level of courage and commitment that we are supposed to be able to manage too?  ‘I just couldn’t do it’, we say to ourselves.  ‘I’ve heard plenty of stories of those who have faced something similar, and died bravely, but me?  No, I couldn’t manage it’.  And a kind of unease springs up inside us.  And something like that unease bubbles up inside us whenever those whom we know and love undergo some of the hardest trials in life – disease, divorce, disaster, dying.
In this Year of Luke, we briefly meet two people who share the fate of Jesus.  They were crucified alongside him.  We often pray the final words of the Penitent Thief, St Dismas,  ‘Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom’, but notice less his earlier words, speaking to the other criminal who had shouted ‘Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us!’  Was the ‘other criminal’ taunting Jesus, saying sarcastically ‘if you’re supposed to be the Messiah, why don’t you sort this mess out and save our skins?’   Or was he hoping against hope - literally desperately - for help?  But the reply of the Penitent Thief was a rebuke:
Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.
Yes, none of us can quite escape that sentence of condemnation.
Writing in the seventeenth century, ‘Of the Natural Condition of Mankind as concerning their Felicity and Misery’, Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan finds consolation in strong political government, without which ‘the life of man’ would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.   Nearly 400 years later, we see what Hobbes means in parts of the world which blow up like a powder keg – chiefly in our minds at present is Syria, part of the ancient Christian heartland.  But even where government is strong and stable, as in our own country, there are plenty who are lonely and poor, quite a lot that is nasty and brutish, and even our enhanced life expectancy does not save us from what, in the end, whether viewed against a scientific or a religious backdrop,  a short life.  If death were the end, like those thieves, we would be under the same sentence of condemnation.  But back comes that nagging fear: what happens if none of it is true and this is all there is?  Fine, for now, if you are lusty and strong.  Not so good when things aren’t so very fine.
We shall stay a moment or two with St Luke, even though the account of the Passion we read on Good Friday is that of St John.  There are in St Luke persistent themes of forgiveness, of goodness, and of kindness.  The Prodigal Son.  The Good Samaritan.  Jesus’ kindly words to St Dismas, the Penitent Thief, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’.  There is the Lord’s confidence on the Cross in the Love of God, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’, and there is what is seen as the final triumph of righteousness, as the centurion, looking on, says, ‘Certainly this man was innocent’.    The centurion reminds us of another centurion, mentioned by St Matthew and St Luke, whose words we use every time we come up for Holy Communion, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…’  It is St Luke who tells us (7:4-5) that that centurion too was an example of goodness, ‘He is worthy to have you do this for him’ – have his slave healed – ‘for he loves our nation and he built us our synagogue’.  Another instance is Joseph of Arimathea.  Matthew and John describe him as ‘a disciple of Jesus’ – John adds ‘but secretly’ – and Mark describes him as ‘a respected member of the council’ and ‘looking for the kingdom of God’.  It is St Luke’s Gospel that tells us that Joseph of Arimathea was ‘a good a righteous man’.
 
What I want to suggest at the Solemn Liturgy this afternoon is that, though the words of Jesus ring in our ears – ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mt 16:24 and parallels), there is plenty to inspire us in the example of the saints, in the heroism of those who gave up their lives but also in the sheer goodness, and the pre-eminence of charity, of the lives of those who did not have to pay this price.  I am going to finish with a short meditation by one of my favourite modern saints, Edith Stein, also known as St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, a Carmelite martyr, a convert from Judaism, who died in Auschwitz in 1942, not much over 50 years old.  Though she did embrace the Cross, and shared fully in the Saviour’s Passion and Death, she offers us the encouragement of looking at those who shared a lesser fate but had, or will have, the privilege of being onlookers.  And that includes most of us, on whom the demands of discipleship are bearable and more modest than physical martyrdom.  Hear then what St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross wrote about standing Am Fuss des Kreuzes, At the Foot of the Cross, on 24th November 1934.
 
On the way of the Cross, the Saviour is not alone, and he is not only surrounded by enemies who harass him. People who support him are also present: the Mother of God, model for those who, in every time, follow the example of the Cross; Simon of Cyrene, a symbol of those who accept a suffering that is imposed on them and who are blessed in that acceptance; and Veronica, an image of those who are pushed by love to serve the Lord. Each person who, throughout time, has carried a heavy destiny while remembering the Saviour’s suffering, or who freely performed an act of penance, redeemed a little of humankind’s enormous debt and helped the Lord to carry his burden. And even more, it is Christ, the head of the mystical body, who accomplishes his work of atonement in the members who give themselves with all their being, body and soul, to his work of redemption.

We can assume that the vision of the faithful who would follow him on the path of suffering upheld the Saviour in the Garden of Olives. And the support given by those who carried the Cross was a help to him each time he fell. It was the righteous of the Old Covenant who accompanied him between his first fall and the second one. The disciples, men and women who rallied around him during his earthly life, were the ones who helped him from the second to the third station. The lovers of the Cross, whom he awakened and whom he will continue to awaken throughout the vicissitudes of the struggling Church, are his allies until the end of time. It is to this that we, too, are called.

 

Maundy Thursday 2013
 
After receiving the morsel, Judas immediately went out, and it was night.                                            Jn 13:30
 
IMAGINE the scene.  The disciples have shared a Farewell Supper with the Lord.  During the meal, where there has been a sense of foreboding in the air, the Lord rose from table, laid aside his garments, and tied a towel around himself, and began to wash the disciples’ feet.  It was the kind of thing that a servant did, as guests arrived with the dust and dirt of a Middle Eastern street on their sandals.  But this was being done by the Master, in the middle of the meal….  It is worth us dwelling on this, this year. For one thing, it is the Year of Luke, and, though St Luke doesn’t tell us about the Foot-washing, he does record a discussion between Jesus and the disciples during the supper. 
The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.                              Lk 22:25-26
‘The kings of the Gentiles’ truly have not only surrounded themselves with pomp but made sure that everyone knows who is in charge, but that is not, says St Luke, the way the King of the Jews  operates and it is not the way that his followers must operate. 
 
Our second reason for drawing attention to this, then, is that we have what is beginning to look like a new-style papacy.  Pope Francis has already done some stripping away of the monarchical trappings of the papacy.  He has kept his room in the Domus Sancta Martha – it’s immediately above the room I stayed in when I was in Rome in 2010.   Throw a stone from the window and you would hit the side of St Peter’s.  He does his morning meditation in the communal chapel there – a figure in white on an ordinary chair on the back row - and takes his meals in the refectory.  Previous popes almost always ate alone.  There was paying of his own bills at the Casa del Clero, the setting aside of some of the more elaborate vestments, the simplification of the inauguration.   We have moved on from a model of the Pope as monarch  to a model more closely in tune with the ‘Servants of the Servants of Christ’ title.  Pope Francis is very aware of the power of symbol in an age of icon and sound-bite, 24-hour news and Twitter, and choosing to go to a Young Offenders’ Detention Centre to celebrate the Maundy Thursday Mass is a powerful symbol.  Nor is it one cynically dreamt up for the media: it was the annual practice of the then Cardinal Bergoglio to visit the under-privileged for the Maundy Mass in Buenos Aires.  One year, a reformatory for young offenders.  Another year, a shelter for single mothers.
 
Liturgists would argue that a bishop should be in his cathedral for the Maundy Thursday Mass.  After all, the Supper of Thursday, the Sacrifice of Friday, and the dawning Presence of Saturday all belong to the one Paschal Mystery, the Christian Passover, which we celebrate entire in every Mass, but separate out, attentively, over the Triduum.  But, even if one would have preferred the Bishop of Rome to be in his cathedral,  one cannot help taking notice of what he is doing instead.  Privileging the under-privileged. Valuing those whom society has sent away to be punished.  Giving the ceremony of the foot-washing the status of a sacrament in itself, and privileging it (as the account in St John’s Gospel does) over the institution of the Holy Eucharist.  More than that, since it was Simon Peter who argued with Jesus about whether the foot-washing was appropriate, it is particularly poignant when the successor of Peter highlights the importance of that ceremony. 
 
The foot-washing is not just about service, not just about friends caring for one another.  It is also what one does for the one’s enemies, for those who will turn against us.  Jesus washes the feet of Judas during the very meal in which he confides with the disciples that one of them will betray him.  The foot-washing must include the notion of baptism too.  The symbolic cleansing of one part of the body – washing just the feet rather than the hands and the head too, as Peter, protesting, suggests Jesus should do -   is just like the sacrament of Baptism.  In fact, we can say that the mini-sacrament of foot-washing is a type, a form, of the great sacrament of Baptism.  ‘If I do not wash you’, says Jesus, ‘you have no part in me’ (Jn 13:8).  It is by the ritual washing of Baptism, then, that we become part of Christ, in Christo, members of his Body.
 
If it is shocking that Jesus effectively baptises Judas, moments before he slips out into the night to betray him, it is even more shocking that he dips a morsel in the cup and gives it to Judas, which is the very point, we are told, at which Satan enters Judas.  Here we have an obvious reference to the Holy Eucharist, even though the Institution of the Eucharist is missing from John’s account of the Last Supper.   This link between Eucharist and betrayal is unmistakeable: it is there in St John’s teaching on the Eucharist, John 6, where Jesus concludes by saying ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve, and one of you is a devil?  He spoke of Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was to betray him.’
 
As many of us experienced last night at Tenebrae, there is indeed being waged what can only be described as a battle between Light and Darkness.  Certainly, that is how Jesus describes it in St John’s Gospel.  We know that the Light is triumphant and that sentence has already been passed on Darkness.  And yet the fight has still to be fought and won, in our own lives, in our relationships, in our communities, and in our world.  Yesterday, Spy Wednesday, we saw Judas conspiring with Jesus’ enemies.  Tonight, we see them at the Last Supper.  We learn not only about Jesus’ abiding presence in our midst, in the Most Holy Eucharist, but also that even those washed clean in Baptism and handed the sacred morsel of Holy Communion, can turn into betrayers.  We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for, in the meantime, there is darkness, not only in the lives of young offenders but also, and not least, in ourselves. 
After receiving the morsel, Judas immediately went out, and it was night.                 
 

 

 

 

 

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