Easter Tuesday

If you are in a crowd of people and someone calls out “Hey you!” you’d probably ignore it.  After all, you would have no way of knowing if that person is calling after you, or someone else.  But if you heard your name being called, you would turn around to see who was calling.  Nothing grabs our attention like hearing our name—whether it’s in a doctor’s waiting room or as we walk down the street.

When the risen Lord first addressed Mary Magdalene as “woman” she didn’t recognize him.  But when he spoke her name, she looked at him, and in that instant recognised her Lord and her Saviour raised from the dead.  Imagine how she must have felt, seeing him alive.  She had witnessed his death on the Cross, and had helped to lay him out in the tomb; now he stood there, calling her by name.  She stopped crying and was filled with joy.

Many men and women of the Old Testament heard God call them by name.  Appearing in a burning bush, God called Moses and commissioned him to bring the Hebrews out from Egypt.  Abraham was empowered to leave everything behind and undertake a long journey to an unknown land God had promised to give him.  Through the prophet Isaiah, God promised all of us that he would give us a new name.  No longer would we be called “Desolate” and “Forsaken.”  Instead, we are called, “My Delight”.

Our Lord calls us by name every day.  When we listen to his voice, as Mary Magdalene did, our hearts are set on fire, and our minds are filled with his truth.  We begin to see the direction in which we should go, and we are strengthened to meet life with courage.

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Easter Monday

The Book of the Acts of the Apostles—which we will hear at Mass throughout this Easter season—is so much more than a history of the early church.  It’s a book about the power of the Holy Spirit.  Throughout its pages, we read how the Holy Spirit worked through ordinary people to make them into bold apostles and witnesses to Christ.  Because it speaks about so many lives being powerfully transformed, Acts also gives us hope and encouragement for our lives.  What happened in the apostles can happen in us as well.

Today’s reading describes the first of many scenes in which the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to build up the Church.  The passage also describes the first fulfilment of Our Lord’s prophecy before he ascended into heaven: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

In Jerusalem, Peter preached, and thousands came to believe.  As we work our way through the Book of Acts, we will hear how Peter and other disciples, like Stephen, preached the Gospel in Jerusalem and the surrounding area of Judea.  Then the focus will shift to Philip, who spread the Gospel even further when he proclaimed Christ in Samaria.  Finally, we will witness Paul bringing the message and the power of salvation throughout Asia Minor, then into Greece, and lastly to Rome.  And in every scene, we can see the Holy Spirit working powerfully through these messengers of God.

Stories like the ones recorded in the Acts of the Apostles continue to happen today through the preaching and witness of Christians. Each of us has received the Holy Spirit which gives us power to witness to Christ and to help spread the Gospel.  And so, as the Easter season unfolds, let us ask Our Lord to fill us with his Spirit and to make us into his witnesses.  Our Lord wants this and he will help and support each of us as we seek to do his will.

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Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

After the anticipation and preparation of Lent, and the excitement of the last few days as we celebrated the Paschal Triduum, we come at last to the Day of Resurrection.  And I’ve always felt that the Easter Sunday Morning Mass is just a bit of an anti-climax, following as it does, the intense drama of the Triduum which climaxed with the Paschal Vigil last night.  I pretty much feel that we’ve done what we’re supposed to do, and now we deserve a bit of a rest.  A nice lunch, a little horizontal meditation, and perhaps later an invigorating cup of Yorkshire Tea as we catch up on the Doctor Who episode we missed on TV yesterday evening.  After the intensity of the Triduum, the Easter Sunday liturgy leads us into a more reflective mood, and we have the opportunity to consider what impact Our Lord’s Resurrection has on our lives, and how we should respond to this great event.

It goes without saying that for the faithful Christian Jesus Christ is the centre of our life.  By virtue of our Baptism we are united to him in a very special way.  An anonymous early Christian writer expressed the intimacy of this union in very simple terms.  He depicts the risen Christ addressing Adam, the first man, with these words: Together we are one undivided person… I myself am united to you.  I who am life.  And that’s not an exaggeration; it’s a straight‑forward statement of an awesome and tremendous fact.  By nature we are children of Adam.  By Baptism we are adopted children of God.  And so we share in the resurrection.  We have been given the gift of new life by virtue of our intimate union with Christ, and this intimacy has to be nurtured and deepened.

Every time we come to Mass and receive Holy Communion we are grafted more firmly into the living Christ.  Together we are one, undivided person.  And this Easter Mass should make us eager to be more effective extensions of Christ, more dedicated heralds of the Resurrection.

The readings for today’s Mass indicate some of the things expected of Easter People.

Firstly, those who believe in the Resurrection must be prepared to openly profess their faith; to be living witnesses of what we believe in.  Like Saint Peter and the other Apostles we should be zealous in our efforts to lead people to Christ.  Our faith should be a source of life not only for ourselves, but also for others.

The New Testament writers were very conscious of the Christian’s extraordinary dignity; they constantly remind us of the nobility of our status.  They consistently insist that fidelity to our baptism makes on‑going demands on us.  Worldly attitudes and worldly life styles have to be discarded.  And it takes courage to make a radical break with the past.  It takes courage to be different – it takes courage to be a Christian in fact, as well as in name.

But can we realistically aspire to live in accord with our new life?  Well, the Collect of this Mass assures us that we can.  The Spirit that is within each one of us empowers us to renew our lives and to live in accord with our new life.  By being responsive to the Holy Spirit we can even now experience a foretaste of the life to come.

The Gospel underlines the response of Saint John to the empty tomb and to the folded burial cloths.  Saint John wrote his gospel for the people of his own time and he presents the Beloved Disciple as the ideal Christian.  He was asking the Church to accept him as the model for an authentic response to the Resurrection.

I’m sure that many people who have driven past Catholic churches over the past few days must have wondered what was going on.  What are those Catholics up to?  Many in our community have no understanding of what we have celebrated this week.

We have all heard the Word of God proclaimed to us; spoken to us as a community and as individuals.  Does that living Word arouse in us a response in faith, a faith animated by a loving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ as members of his One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?

I wish you all a very happy and holy Easter.

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The Paschal Vigil

There was an interesting piece on the radio the other day about the degrees of interest in sport.  One contributor said that the real fans go to the games to support their team and their club.  I suppose in a similar way, one could say that the real Christians go to church.  In my humble opinion, if there was ever a time a Christian should go to church, it is tonight.  Tomorrow morning, our parish churches will be filled to bursting with people, many of them strangers, the Christmas and Easter contingent, eager to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.  And yet, as I have said at Easter every single year of my priesthood, there can be no crown without the Cross.  We cannot truly understand what happened on Easter morning, unless we have travelled the Way of the Cross, a journey we began with Our Lord on Holy Thursday evening.  Yesterday, Good Friday, we commemorated Our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross which saved us from our sins.  Today we waited silently and patiently as Our Lord lay dead and cold in the tomb.  But tonight, the Church celebrates the holiest of all the nights of the year, the night on which Our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

When you arrived here this evening everything was in darkness and gloom.  And, if you happen to be part of that Christmas and Easter contingent, you will have wondered what on earth was going on.  The darkness and gloom brought home to us that Christ was dead and buried in the tomb.  The liturgy began with the lighting of the new Easter Fire, and from that fire the great Easter candle was lit, which symbolises the Light of Christ in our midst.  Later on, I will bless the new water for Easter which will remind us of our Baptism as we are sprinkled with it.  We will also have the privilege of witnessing the Reception into Full Communion with the Catholic Church and the Confirmation of Samantha Forson who is a friend of the Community and has worshipped with us for some time.  Bishop Egan has granted me the faculty to Receive and Confirm Samantha here tonight.  And, like all of us, Samantha has undergone a conversion experience, a process which has led her to come home to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Each one of us has our own story to tell, especially those of us who are converts to the Catholic Faith.  And yet everyone’s conversion process and search for eternal truth involves turning away from darkness and turning towards the light.  That ‘motif’, for lack of a better word, is very much mirrored in the liturgy tonight.  There was that physical movement from the darkness and gloom we experienced outside, gradually being led by the Light of Christ into the splendour of what we now experience inside.  This physical turning from darkness to light mirrors the conversion process.

If we listened carefully to the first reading during the Vigil, we heard that in the beginning all was in darkness and that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.  The darkness and the waters were the two elements present at the very beginning of history.  They are signs of death and they are signs of sin.  It was out of darkness that God made His first point of creation; the first element in the created order was light.  And the second element from which all the rest of material creation came was the order that came from the chaos of the water.  The two things that life requires more than anything else are light and water, and these are the two elements which play a pivotal role at the very beginning of creation.  These elements are reflected in our liturgy tonight.

The great Easter candle which stands before us symbolises the Light of Christ in our world.  If we were witnessing a baptism tonight the candle would be plunged into the font to bless that water, in order for it to bring forth new life, the new life which is ours in Baptism.  In the Epistle, Saint Paul told us that all who are baptized into Christ are baptized into His death and into His Resurrection.  As candidates for baptism, we enter willingly into the water, to be buried with Christ, and then we rise with Him to new and everlasting life.

Tonight’s liturgy is so full of symbolism that we can reflect and meditate upon it for hours, if not days.  In the Vigil part of tonight’s liturgy, the Church draws our attention to the first chapter of the Book of Genesis which tells us that it is God’s Spirit which rested upon the water.  Throughout the Gospels, the Holy Spirit is defined by two different things – fire and water – again, two elements we witness in the liturgy tonight.  Our Lord tells us that He is the Light of the World, and anyone who follows Him will have the light of life in them.  Our Lord speaks about that light, and He tells us that we must be baptized by water and the Holy Spirit.  John the Baptist said that he baptized with water but one is coming after Him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  And when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples at Pentecost, it was in tongues of fire.  Our Lord also spoke of the significance of water.  He spoke of it to the woman from Samaria who drew water from the well, he said to her: If you knew who it was that was speaking to you, you would ask him, and he would give you living water.  Our Lord spoke about this living water and about those who would follow Him, and how this water would well up within them and become springs welling up to eternal life.

From all this we can see that there is life on two different levels for us.  There is our natural life and there is supernatural life: the natural life which we receive from our parents, and the supernatural life which is given to us in Baptism.  This is the grace of God that was won for us in the Resurrection of Christ from the dead.  In Baptism, we are buried with Christ in death.  The Apostles’ Creed tells us that Our Lord descended into Hell, not the place of condemnation, but rather the place of the dead, the underworld: Sheol as the Hebrews called it.  Our Lord went there in order to bring his light into the place of darkness.  He came into this world as the light in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And so, in our lives, when we reflect upon what has happened to us, we are conceived in sin and, in Baptism, we are reborn into life.  We move from darkness to light.  We move from being plunged into the waters of death to rise up to new and everlasting life.  Sin is the choice of darkness and of death, the very things that existed before God brought order into creation – and when we rise again to new life, whether it be in Baptism or from the Confessional, once again we have within us the Light of Christ and the grace of God welling up to eternal life.

Our Lord is the Light of the World, and yet He tells each one of us that we also are lights in the world.  He says: If the light is in you, then everything is bright; but if your light is darkness, how dark it is.  On this night of the Resurrection, Our Lord has dispersed the darkness with the power of his Light.  He has broken through the chaos of death, and He has won for us the forgiveness of our sins and offered us eternal life.  He calls each one of us to choose life, to choose supernatural life, to reject sin and to live according to God’s grace which has come to us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Each one of us baptized into Christ shares already in His Resurrection, and we are called to live in this world of darkness as the light of the world, to live holy lives, to live Christ-like lives, and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, to inspire us, and to fill us with His light and with His love.  Our task as baptised Christians is to rise above death and darkness.  Like the Easter candle standing tall and proud, we too are to shine like a brilliant light, and that life which is given to us through water and the Holy Spirit helps us to reject death and to spring up to eternal life.

This is the gift Our Lord has won for us by his Resurrection.  It is the gift that we already share.  It is the dignity that is ours: the call to become saints, the call to be children of the light – to reject darkness, to reject death, to reject sin, and to live lives of holiness.  We are called to be beacons of light in union with Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ raised from the dead.

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Good Friday

A crucifix hangs somewhere in almost every Catholic home, in every Catholic school and institution.  The crucifix is the most widely known symbol associated with Catholics and the Church, and has been for over two thousand years.  In a world where little seems permanent, where things come and go easily, where passing fads are commonplace, where so much is considered relative, the fact that a symbol has endured for so long should convey something to everyone who sees it, even to those who don’t believe in Christ or Christianity or religion.  The crucifix has endured because it depicts and represents the turning point of humanity, and life in this world as we have known it.  Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, God Himself, was put to death by his own people, those He came to save, the saddest admission humanity has ever had to make.  But, the most hopeful admission we have to make is that Our Lord died for us, and in His death, He saved us.  Nothing more important has ever happened in the history of the world than the moment of His death, which we remember today.  And we who believe, we who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, also know that His death was not, and is not the end of the story.

Think for a moment about the cross: two beams of common, simple wood.  Originally, it had no other purpose than to be an instrument of a horrible death.  What brings those beams together, what makes the simple cross a crucifix is not the intersection of wood upon wood.  What brings those beams together and makes the cross a crucifix is the intersection of wood and flesh: a body stretched on a vertical wooden beam; arms outstretched on a horizontal wooden beam, a body attached to the wood with coarse iron nails.

The Romans reserved this feared instrument of death for the worst criminals.  The cross that we behold today, the crucifix that is the central symbol of our faith, held the body of the One whose only crime was that He loved us without condition or reservation, and that He was willing to show the depth of His love with the ultimate and absolute sacrifice.  “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15: 13).  This was the love of God for us.  It was He, this criminal who was considered by his own people to be unworthy of human life and breath and, so, put to death on a cross, it was He whose death made all human life worthy; whose sacrifice made every human breath holy.  In Jesus Christ, God’s love was made real, visible, and tangible.  God’s love makes no exceptions.  As Our Lord staggered to His crucifixion, He carried on His shoulders not only a cross but also the weight of our sins.  “It was our infirmities he bore, our sufferings he endured… he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins… the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all” (Isaiah 53: 4-6).

The crucifix is not a decoration or merely a symbol.  The crucifix is the most powerful reminder of the greatest love the world has ever known: one wooden beam pointing from the earth to the sky, pointing our attention to God; another wooden beam pointing from east to west, pointing our attention to our fellow human beings.  And what brings those two wooden beams, those two directions together, is a single body, whose life of suffering and transforming love was a life and a love for all: a crucified love that has endured and will continue to endure.  A love that turns the wood of a tree, the tree of defeat and death, into a tree of life and victory.

Christ on the Cross, 1884 (oil on canvas)

Maundy Thursday

Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

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Every Mass is a commemoration of the Last Supper, but tonight’s Mass is a special commemoration, a true anniversary as we focus in a particular way on Our Lord in the Upper Room and on all that he did there on the night before he died.  The Last Supper ought more properly to be called the First Eucharist, because it was the institution of the Eucharist—the Mass—whose celebration is the hallmark of all true believers in Christ.  As the Catechism, quoting Sacrosanctum Concilium, teaches us: “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian Life”. [1324]

On that night Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it and said: This is my body which will be given up for you, do this in memory of me.  By this action, we believe that ordinary bread is changed, in a mysterious and miraculous way, into the Body of Christ.  And we further believe that every time priests repeat this action in the celebration of the Mass, the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

This is, what theologians call, a very high theology of the Eucharist, and it isn’t accepted by all Christians.  And yet this is how the Apostles understood what Our Lord did that night, and it was the universal belief of Christians until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.  We Catholics remain firm in our faith that the bread and wine offered at Mass, through the action of Christ and the priest who celebrates Mass, do really become for us the Body and Blood of Christ, not just a representation of them.

This food for our bodies becomes food for our souls: the tiny wafer and a mere sip of wine could never satisfy our physical hunger, but in Holy Communion they bring our souls more nourishment than we can possibly imagine.

We are not literalists or naïve fundamentalists, and we don’t see and taste actual flesh and blood.  But we firmly believe that what has the outward form of bread and wine is transformed by God into the most intimate union with Christ his Son—it is in its very essence his true Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.

The Eucharist is the deepest communion that we could possibly experience with the Son of God.  And yet we celebrate Mass here day-in-day-out and it never grows stale, we are never bored—in fact what grows in us is an ever-greater yearning for complete union with God.

And so that we could achieve this complete union with God, Our Lord instituted the Priesthood, so that what took place two thousand years ago in history, might be made present today through ministry of the priest.  We don’t just remember the past when we come to Mass, rather the past becomes present for us.  We are actually present at that saving event and, out of Christ’s love for us we receive in this, and every Mass, the life of the Lord himself.  And so, we thank God tonight for the Priesthood, and we think kindly of those priests we know personally.  At a time when there is a shortage of priests, we pray that our young men may consider a vocation to the priesthood, so that God’s people may never be deprived of the Sacraments and the graces they confer.

The third significant action of Our Lord at the Last Supper was the washing of the feet of his disciples before the meal took place.  In this gesture we see Our Lord showing us how to live out our daily lives as his followers.  He humbles himself to kneel on the floor before his disciples and wash their feet, a task normally carried out by the lowliest servant in the household, and yet Our Lord makes it the greatest of honours.

This wonderful symbolic act is all-of-a-piece with Christ’s sharing of his Body and Blood later in the meal, and his total and complete submission to the will of his Father in his Passion and death on the Cross the following day.

And when Mass is over, we go with him to the Garden of Gethsemane.  We keep vigil with our suffering Saviour.  We keep vigil with him on the night before his death as he suffers deeply from the realisation of what was to happen the next day: the hardest, the most awful, and yet the most glorious day of his life, and indeed of all our lives.

This is why we rejoice on this Holy Night.  We glory in the marvellous wonders Our Lord has achieved, and we unite ourselves with the powerful mysteries we celebrate in this Mass.  I don’t think we can ever fully grasp the depth of these mysteries, but their profundity amazes us and inspires us with faith in the wonderful way that God has chosen to demonstrate his love for the world.

And our prayer is that Christ will soon bring to fulfilment in our lives all that he has promised; and that through our celebration of this Mass we will become totally at one with him.  His Mandatum – his mandate that we should love one another will become then, not an act of will on our part, but our spontaneous reaction to everyone we encounter.  And the Kingdom will be no more a vision and a future hope, rather it will have become an ever-present reality in our daily lives.

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Wednesday of Holy Week

If you recall yesterday’s gospel, you may have the feeling that this is where you came in.  We heard the same story: Our Lord at table with the Twelve, announcing that one of them will betray him, and all of them protesting, “Surely it is not I?”  But today’s gospel narrows the focus to Judas Iscariot; and have you ever wondered what made him tick?

Well, I think the easy answer is greed.  Thirty pieces of silver dangled before the man who, in Monday’s gospel was accused of stealing from the common purse.  But perhaps Judas was a more complicated man.  Suppose he is weary of waiting for the day when Jesus will at last break the silence he has enjoined on the apostles and publicly declare himself the Messiah, the promised and long-awaited Saviour of Israel.  Will his arrest perhaps not precipitate the revelation and mark the dawn of liberation?  No wonder Judas yields to despair when his grand scheme fails and Jesus is led off to Calvary.

Could this be an unlikely scenario?  Perhaps.  But it does have a ring of plausibility about it.  Judas may have been the first to try and force the Lord’s hand, but he is surely not the last.  Today some people encourage the tensions between western nations and countries in the Middle East as signs that Armageddon, the final war of history, is about to break out.  Sure of their own virtue, they would hurry the Lord’s return in glory.

Closer to home, each of us has sometimes tried to force the Lord’s hand.  If we pray hard enough, God will have to find the job, cure the illness, ease the aching heart.  If we protest loudly enough in our prayers, God will have to put an end to the filth and violence in the media and shut down all the abortion clinics.  All of this and more, yet we forget that God will not be hurried.  He will win salvation in a long and painful struggle on Calvary.  He will heal human pain by sharing it.  He will overcome the power of sin and death by surrendering, silently and with infinite love.  And he will be victorious – but in his time, not ours.

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