THE HOLY SACRIFICE OF THE MASS WILL BE CELEBRATED PRIVATELY AT
9:30am on weekdays.
10am on Saturday and Sunday
in St. John the Baptist’s Church.
The inability to respond to a person’s request to access the Sacrament of Reconciliation goes very much against all our instincts as priests and our desire to bring the Lord’s mercy to those who seek it. We cannot though, in this period of quarantine as well as the restrictions on travel and gathering together, provide a responsible and safe access to this Sacrament.
Recently, the Holy Father Pope Francis said something in a homily which may help at a time when we cannot make our ‘Easter duties and celebrate Confession:
“I know that many of you go to confession before Easter… Many will say to me: ‘But Father…I can’t leave the house and I want to make my peace with the Lord…How can I do that unless I find a priest’?… Do what the catechism says. It’s very clear. If you don’t find a priest to go to confession, speak to God. He’s your Father. Tell Him the truth: ‘Lord. I did this and this and this. Pardon me.’ Ask His forgiveness with all your heart with an Act of Contrition, and promise Him, ‘afterward I will go to confession.’ You will return to God’s grace immediately.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (§1452) also says:
“When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called ‘perfect’ – contrition of charity. Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.”
The Church has always taught that the Sacraments are the guaranteed moments of meeting with the Lord, since they are His gift and Grace. However, He is not constrained to them or in any way restrained by them since they are His action through the Church, His body.
So, if we are UNABLE (rather than unwilling) to go to Confession the Grace of the Sacrament comes to us through different means, namely the earnest desire and intention to repent and make amends with our deepest sorrow.
Similarly, if we earnestly desired to be anointed and absolved in the ‘Last Sacraments’ but for external or extra-ordinary reasons (such as a pandemic and its necessary restrictions) then we receive the grace by different means. In this case it is through the prayer of the Church, although spiritually rather than physically present in the person of the priest.
Requests for individual confession are almost impossible to meet within the restrictions we are obliged to follow for the safety of penitents at this time. For this reason, it is deemed both reasonable and pastorally responsible for a priest to refuse a request for individual confession in these exceptional times.
Please note that a penitent’s confession cannot be heard, nor can absolution be given, under any circumstance, over the telephone or using any other electronic social or communication media.
Today, the 5th Sunday of Lent and the Sunday after the Solemnity of the Annunciation, our country was rededicated as the Dowry of Mary. Never was there a more opportune moment to place ourselves and country under the protection of our Blessed Mother.
It struck me at the end of the Mass this morning as I recited alone, and thereby joined in, the Act of Rededication how very appropriate it was that there was no pomp or fanfare. Rather it was simple and heartfelt. At the Annunciation the Blessed Mother conceived her Son and her Lord with simplicity, courage and heartfelt gratitude. How fitting was the simplicity then, that at this moment in our country’s history we should rededicate ourselves by acts of simple and personal prayer to the service of her Divine Son, Who alone can bring true and lasting healing of heart, body, mind and soul.
Even as we rededicated our country as the Dowry of Mary, the Church is swathing herself in the purple of royal mourning as we prepare for Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum. The statues of our family members already in the glory of God have been covered. Slowly all we know as familiar and comforting will be taken from us. The Liturgy and the physical environment of the church directs us to what is essential. This year in a very unique way the veiling mirrors what is happening all around us. The familiar and comforting is taken from us. We must fall back upon that which is essential.
What is essential is presented, as always, in Sacred Scripture and the Lord’s own teaching –
Sh’ma Yis’re’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad – Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One! You must love the Lord with all your heart and soul, and your neighbour as yourself. In these two commandments all the Law and all the Prophets are summed up. Treat others as you would have them treat you.
This 5th Sunday of Lent is the last of the Scrutiny Sundays before we begin Holy Week next Palm Sunday. It will be the strangest Holy Week any of us have experienced. But just because it is different does not meant we cannot experience the power of what the Lord wants to give us in the Paschal mysteries of Holy Week and Triduum. It simply provides new and different ways of experiencing them.
The past three Sundays, the Scrutiny Sundays arising from the ancient Church and those catechumens preparing for Baptism on Easter night, have real relevance for us too. Jesus promised Living Water to the Samaritan woman; Jesus, the Light of the world, give sight and new insight to the man born blind. The Gospel text this Sunday once again comes from St John and also has a baptismal significance. The raising of Lazarus from the dead points to our rising in faith to a new and eternal life through Baptism. These three Sundays lead us to Water, Light, and Life. They have meaning for all of us as we strive, with the help of God’s grace, to live out in our daily lives our baptismal promises.
This text has real power and reveals to us what a human God we have in Jesus Christ, true God and true man. St John never wastes words or symbols, every word is measured and deliberate. This text is particularly packed with meaning and symbolism to strengthen our faith in the Lord of Life.
St John’s Gospel is organised around ‘the seven signs’ the final ‘sign’ is the self-offering of the Lord as the Lamb of sacrifice upon the Altar of the Cross. The raising of his friend Lazarus is the sixth of the ‘seven signs’. It underlines his emphatic claim to give life (5:25-29; 6:40). It was the raising of Lazarus from the dead that would finally seal the Lord’s fate since it provokes the Jewish authorities to get rid of Him (11:45-53).
The Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke have similar incidents of raising the dead. Jarius’ daughter is raised in Mark 5:21-43 and the young man of Nain is raised in Luke &:11-17. All are a result of the Lord’s compassion in the face of grief. All show the humanity and the absolute divinity of the Lord who reaches out to the broken hearted and who can say, ‘Grave where is your victory!’ Not surprisingly these Gospel texts and particularly todays text is often used at funerals when we hear the words of Jesus to Lazarus’ sister Martha, words that give us comfort and hope: I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
The beauty of the Gospel is that we each take something different, according to our needs, from the text and message. I have always loved this incident in the St John’s Gospel because I think of my mother. My mother was a bit like Martha. As a redhead she could be a bit fiery. In fact the text says that BOTH Marth and Mary say the same thing to the Lord, “Lord, if you had been hear my brother would not have died”. They are grief stricken and in their grief they chide Him. It is in a sense the cry of everyone who has lost someone whom they have loved – Why? If you are God, why didn’t you do something! The Good Lord hears their pain and anguish. Perhaps it is because of their grief that we have the shortest sentence in Sacred Scripture, “He wept”. What a human God! He, the almighty God in flesh and blood wept for the pain and suffering of those whom He loved and loves. But it is Martha who, much like my sainted mother, could not let it go.
The Lord says ‘Your brother will rise again’. This of course was a statement of faith, of Jewish faith. It was a doctrine already current in Judaism (Dan 12:2-3 also Maccabees 7:9 N.B. This was one of several books removed from the Bible at the ‘Reformation’ by Luther including the Letter to the Hebrews from the N T. Hebrews was eventually put back in to the Protestant Bibles later). But Martha has a go at the Lord, “Oh I know he will rise again, at the resurrection on the last day”. I imagine her saying ‘Yeah, yeah I know the doctrine. But what good is that to me now! I’m hurting now’. Grief is natural and powerful, it rends the heart and soul, it makes us cry out. The Gospel reminds us that He is there to hear us and to stand by our sides even at the entrance of the tomb. But in the midst of her grief Martha hopes and believes that the Lord can do something –“even now I know that whatever you ask of God He will grant you”.
In this first part of the text, the dialogue between Jesus and the sisters, Jesus says to Martha, “I AM the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me though they die shall live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. DO YOU BELIVE THIS?”
Here again we have one the important Ego Eimi statements of St John’s Gospel, a claim to divinity. It is the very name and title of God, the Almighty and eternal. He does not say, “I was” or “I will be” but rather “I AM the resurrection and the life” Here and now, in this present moment I AM. Our God is the Lord of all and eternity is the present moment, eternally the present moment. The past is done with and the future does not exist in reality. Only the present moment truly exists – Jesus is the eternal I AM, the eternally present. Jesus places all hope for resurrection and new life upon Himself. He alone has absolute sovereignty over life and death which was and is the sole prerogative of the Lord God (1 Sam 2:6; Wis 16:13).
The Lord elicits from Martha her gift of faith in His Lordship and presence. “Do YOU believe this Martha? Do you? Because if you do, if you believe that I AM, I can do what the world thinks impossible”. Martha, who with Lazarus and Mary loved the Lord, opened their home to Him and welcomed Him, simply and profoundly says “Yes Lord, I believe that YOU are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world”. We can almost hear the relief, the surrender, the hurt leaving her. She can leave it all to Him because “He knows what He is about” (St. John Henry Newman). It is the most clear and profound act of faith in the whole the St. John’s Gospel up to this point.
We can only imagine the shock, maybe even anger, of those who heard Jesus say those words – “I AM the resurrection and the life”. Martha believed. The truth of Jesus’ proclamation that He IS the resurrection and the life would become even more apparent on Easter morning with His own resurrection, the final victory over evil and death.
It is, with the faith of Martha in His ears and heart, that Jesus goes to the tomb. The text says that Lazarus, one of his close friends, had been in the tomb for four days. This is an important detail. The four days signifies the four stages of Spiritual death – Original Sin, violation of the natural Law, violation of the Law of Moses and the despising of the Gospel.
Verse 38 onwards gives the climax of the event. Jesus stands before the tomb, both physical and metaphorical, and asks for faith and action – ‘take the stone away’.
Then He prays, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me” but so that everyone else may know that You sent Me – he cries out in a loud voice, says the text. It is echoed in the Book of Revelation when The voice will cry out to all creation.
Jesus cries, “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus calls him by name. This gift of life is for him, not other corpses in the tombs. Lazarus alone is called, to that those present and we now, may believe that Jesus IS the resurrection and the Life. Jesus calls him by his name because God always calls us by name. The name of Lazarus has meaning too. “Lazarus” is from “Lazaros,” which is a Greek form of the Hebrew name Eleazar, meaing “He who God helps”.
Surprisingly, there is no Greek verb in this sentence, no word at all meaning “come” in the ordinary sense. The word translated as “come” is an adverb primarily meaning “hither” or “here.” It means “come” in the same way that in English we call a dog by saying “Here, boy!” But there is no degrading sense, as in English, of treating someone like a dog.
There is a secondary meaning for ‘Come out’ in the Greek regarding time. The phrase could be translated as “Until now beyond time!” this is an interesting and perhaps enlightening statement regarding Christ’s view of the sleep of death at the beginning of the text. The Greek word translated as “Come” is from deuro (deuro), which means “hither”, “here”, “until now”, “hither to,” and [with an imperative] “come on” when applied to time. The Greek word translated as “out” or “Forth” is from exô which means “out of a place”, “outside”, “external things,” and “beyond a time” when applied to time. So, not unusually for St John’s Gospel, there is a bit of a word play going on with the place and time meanings.
Lazarus, “He whom God helps”, still bound by the shroud of death and grave clothes, hobbles out. The Lord commands, “Unbind him, let him go free”. Such powerful and beautiful words which the Lord speaks to us! There is a beautiful connection here with the ancient homily known as The Harrowing of Hell used in the Liturgy of the Hours on Holy Saturday morning. The Lord having gone to the underworld says Adam, the son of earth and symbol of fallen humanity, ‘I did not make you to be held imprisoned in the underworld…Arise let us go forth’.
Through His death and resurrection we have been unbound and set free. St. Augustine applied this text to the Sacraments of Confession and Baptism in which we have been unbound and set free from spiritual death by the love and mercy of our God. Just as burial clothes bound Lazarus so sin binds human beings. Jesus told the people to unbind the burial bindings from Lazarus as he came forth from the tomb. So the Lord, through the Sacraments and His Word, unbinds sinners from the chains of sin from spiritual death. We truly experience new life, a kind of second Baptism through the mercy of the Lord who stands before all the tombs we make for ourselves.
Of course as with Jarius’ daughter and the young man of Nain, Lazarus would die a second time. Death, like birth, is an intrinsic part of mortal life. Just as the child must leave the world of the womb be to begin a new life so we must leave world via the tomb to begin a new life. By a very well documented tradition Lazarus, Martha and Mary escaped to Cyprus where they are buried and so passed to their new and eternal life in Christ. Lazarus, Jarius’ daughter and the young man of Nain were all brought back to life, back to this life, not resurrected as Jesus was. But the Scriptures assure us that just as all die in Adam, so all rise to New Life in Christ.
We, by living as the Lord wants, lives of love, kindness, gentleness, courage and virtue, are offered new life, resurrected, glorified and eternal life. This is the life the Lord has won for us, the life He desires for us, a life of union with Him, unbound and set free. In these difficult, anxious and unique times we have opportunities to exercise love, gentleness, patience, courage and virtue with those around us. We do not have to go out searching for opportunities they are in our homes, families, communities and parish right now.
As we approach Holy Week, let us pray that our own faith may be strengthened, so that we, like Martha and Mary, can place all our hope in Him who IS the resurrection and the life! Let us like Lazarus experience the unbinding of sin and the liberty the Lord desires for us.
By your help, we beseech you, Lord our God, may we walk eagerly in that same charity with which, out of love for the world, your Son handed himself over to death. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live
The Lord says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this – it is the Lord who speaks.
At the darkest moment of Israel’s history, when they are hopeless exiles in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel foretells a rebirth. In a great vision, of which we read only three paltry verses, he sees a valley full of dead bones. The Lord commands him to breathe on them, and in Hebrew the same word is used for breath and Spirit. Ezekiel breathes on them the enlivening Spirit of the Lord. The bones come together, are covered with flesh and sinews, and become ‘a great, an immense army’. Directly, the prophet is foretelling the rebirth of Israel as a nation, that they will return to life once again in the Promised Land, given life as a nation once more. We can, however, read this prophecy in the light of the biblical revelation as a whole, and see that it is hinting at and mysteriously suggesting a further meaning. In this fullness of meaning the Church has always understood the prophecy as a promise of personal resurrection through the Spirit of God. We are on the threshold of the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ at Easter, and so of our own resurrection. This reading partners today’s gospel reading about the new life given to Lazarus. HW
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, Lord, hear my voice! O let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleading.
If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who would survive? But with you is found forgiveness: for this we revere you.
My soul is waiting for the Lord. I count on his word. My soul is longing for the Lord more than watchman for daybreak.(Let the watchman count on daybreak and Israel on the Lord.)
Because with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption, Israel indeed he will redeem from all its iniquity.
The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you
People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God. Your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to him. Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.
Paul has described and analysed the process of salvation through Jesus’ offering of himself in loving obedience to his Father, and our own integration into Christ by being plunged into him in baptism, and so joining him in his death and resurrection. This eighth chapter is the chapter of the Spirit, considering how we are transformed by the Spirit of Christ, now become our own spirit, through which e live. The Spirit of the Risen Christ is already in us and is empowering us, but our bodies are not yet transformed, as they will be in the final resurrection. In the later Pauline epistles (Colossians and Ephesians) this is expressed differently: God has already brought you to life with Christ. You have already been raised up: it remains only for this risen life to be revealed with him in glory (Colossians 2.12; 3.4). The Spirit of God and of Christ, described in the Johannine writings as the Paraclete or Helper, leads us into all truth, giving us an ever deeper appreciation of God’s gifts to us. The Spirit also gives us strength and zeal to do God’s work in all our ways of life. HW
There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’ The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’ Jesus replied: ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling because he has the light of this world to see by; but if he walks at night he stumbles, because there is no light to guide him.’
He said that and then added, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better.’ The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there because now you will believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas – known as the Twin – said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him.’
On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said,
‘I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in a low voice, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ Hearing this, Mary got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village; he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were in the house sympathising with Mary saw her get up so quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:
‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer. I knew indeed that you always hear me, but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me, so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’
When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’
Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.
The third of these great Johannine gospel readings on the Sundays of Lent, leading up to and preparing us for the baptisms of the new members of Christ at the Easter Vigil, grips us with the story of Jesus’ gift of life to his friend Lazarus. This is not the same as the gift of life to us by Jesus in the resurrection, for Lazarus returns to ordinary human life, and will die again, whereas the Christian resurrection transforms us into a new way of life, giving us a life which is an participation in the divine life. But the resurrection of Lazarus is the last and greatest of Jesus’ signs, his marvellous works which point towards and hint at this final gift of divine life. The first of the signs was the transformation of the water of the Law into the wine of the messianic wedding banquet at Cana. These signs show who Jesus really is. As well as showing the divine power of Jesus – for only God can give life – they also show the real, human love of Jesus for his friends. He is upset by Lazarus’ death and weeps for him, sharing the human sorrow of his family as he shares our sorrows too. HW
Bless, O Lord, your people, who long for the gift of your mercy, and grant that what, at your prompting, they desire they may receive by your generous gift. Through Christ our Lord.
(The above text is from Catholic Calander / Universalis.com / The Roman Missal and Lectionary Readings of the Catholic Church)
“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.
It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).
Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.
The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.
In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.
The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.
Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).
The 3rd, 4th and 5th Sundays of Lent are ‘Scrutiny Sundays’. In the early Church these Gospel texts were used expound the teachings of Christ and the Church to catechumens, those who were preparing to be Baptised in the ancient Church. Last week we heard the exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the Well in which Jesus declares Himself as the Water of Life. This week we hear the exchange and experience of Jesus and the man born blind. Jesus does not heal him instantaneously but uses signs and engages him in his healing process. Jesus leads him. Leads him to a profound physical and more importantly, spiritual healing. The blind man at first simply recognises Him as, “the man called Jesus…” (9:11); then he recognises Jesus is a prophet (9:17), finally he recognises Jesus is from God (9:33). The blind man comes to full faith in Jesus. Jesus is not a conjurer or magician but a Physician who enables deep, lasting and profound healing.
The actions of Jesus in the Gospel have deep and profound meaning not only for those early catechumens, but for us too. The text is from St. John’s Gospel. St. John uses language very deliberately, every word and action is weighed and measured to express the truths of the Lord’s message. The fact that Jesus saw the man reminds us that the Good Lord always sees us. He sees us as we are and as we truly are. He sees us as we are and as we can become.
Jesus makes a paste with the earth. This may seem strange to use. In fact this was a fairly common practice. But again, this is St John’s Gospel so everything is there for a reason and purpose. The Latin ‘Homo sapiens’, means ‘wise man’. For the Jews man /mankind always means Adam, the son of earth. The Genesis story of Creation tells us that Adam was brought forth from the earth. In Hebrew mankind (humanity) comes from the adamah, which means ‘the earth’. That word Adamah carries with it a sense of fruitful earth or rich soil. But of course that lump of soil, earth, clay is inert. There is no ‘anima’, no life. In Genesis the God who seeks always to create, enliven and sustain uses the ruah. Ruah is the Hebrew word which means “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit.” The corresponding Greek word is pneuma. Both words are commonly used in passages referring to the Holy Spirit with the implication of ‘creative breath of God’. God has breathed His own Divine life into inert humanity and given life, a share in His own life. That same word is used when Genesis says that the Spirit hovered, in fact, brooded over the waters.
Water is also a sign of life and used in many cultures and religions as a symbol of life and purity. In the Christian faith it is a primary symbol of new life in and through Holy Baptism. This is especially true of the Catholic faith where we use water in so much of our liturgical and individual worship. The primary and essential moment of Baptism, the moment of our rebirth in Christ is central to all we do as Catholic Christians. Water was also important and symbolic to the Jews of the Old and New Testament – The liberating waters of the Sea of Reeds, the new life as received from the waters of Meribah, the new life offered to the Samaritan Woman, by Jesus in last week’s Gospel.
Once again because we are dealing with St. John’s Gospel the fact that the blind man is sent by Jesus to the water known as the Pool of Siloam is important. In St. John’s Gospel, the Sacramental experience of being born again, being made new, is deeply significant not just for the catechumens but for us all. Jesus sends the blind man to Siloam, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (John 9:4).
Again St. John makes his own comment to underline what is really happening; he wrote, Siloam means “Sent.” For St John and the early Church this word “sent” is significant because several times in St. John’s Gospel we are told that Jesus has been sent by the Father: Jesus’ food is to do the will of him who sent him (4:34); whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him (5:23); these works that I perform testify…that the Father has sent me. (5:36) When St. John says that the blind man washed in the Pool of Siloam which means Sent and came back seeing, he draws our attention to the fact that the blind man washed in Jesus and came back seeing. Jesus taught three times earlier in this Gospel about the gift of the Spirit during baptism, and now this blind man washes in Siloam – he really washes in Jesus – and is cured of his blindness. “I went, I washed, I saw” says the blind man when he was asked how his eyes were opened (John 9:11).
When Jesus meets the man a second time we reach the climax of the drama. Jesus asks the man if he believes in the Son of Man (9:35) and the man asks who is the Son of Man (9:36). Jesus reveals that He is the Son of Man and the man responds in faith, “Lord, I believe” and because he believed he worshipped Jesus (9:38), The Greek of St. John’s Gospel indicates that the man went down on his knees before Jesus. For those early catechumens and for us all who have met Jesus in faith, those who have been washed in the waters of Baptism and so belong to Him, this worship is always the appropriate response. It is only once we have learned to kneel before God that we can learn to stand steadfast before the world.
Washing in the Pool of Siloam was only the start of a lifelong journey for this man. He would never be the same again. We too have been washed in the Siloam of Holy Baptism. Like the blind man, we have grown in our faith to understand and accept Jesus as our Lord and our God. Jesus stands before us, those who have been washed and reborn in the waters of new life, asking “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The weeks ahead of us will be challenging on so many levels. There is a sense that this time will be a Lenten experience when we are challenged to change our way of thinking and acting. Just as Lent calls us to focus and prioritise so the weeks ahead will require courage, honesty and commitment to the task at hand. The blind man came to a new and deeper experience of sight and insight, a new and deeper experience of the presence of the Lord at work in his life. We too are called to that deeper experience. For the Christian we are called to make manifest that new life, new experience and deeper insight in the ordinary things of life. The weeks ahead provide us with opportunities to put those things into very real and practical action. Long periods of time spent close together can be both blessing and curse! Similarly, much longer periods alone can be blessing and curse. The frustrations, concerns and worries about our family, loved ones, jobs and health (not to mention what we are going to do with 120 toilet rolls!) may bring real anxiety.
In the midst of a rapidly changing world, full of uncertainty and distress stands the Lord wanting to calm, heal, restore and bring peace into trouble lives and hearts. In the week ahead let us, like the blind man, not be afraid to present in prayer ourselves, our needs, our concerns, our loved ones and those in need to the Lord. Let us, conscious of the Lord’s goodness to us, go out of our way to be kind, generous and understanding, reach out to others (without touching except spiritually!) and so make real in our own lives the words of the blind man, ‘Lord, I do believe!’
Our Christian faith is Incarnational. Our whole faith is based upon the belief and knowledge that God, in the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, took our human nature to Himself. God became man to raise up humanity to God. The greatest controversies and heresies of the ancient and also present Church have concerned the human and Divine natures of Christ. Was Jesus just a man adopted by God? Was Jesus merely pretending to be man? Was Jesus an angel in disguise or just a great preacher?
St. John’s Gospel makes it very clear that Jesus claimed Divinity with His use of the great ‘I am’ statements. Ego eimi “I am”, “I exist”, is the first person singular present active indicative of the verb “to be” in ancient Greek. The use of this phrase in some of the uses found in the Gospel of John is profoundly significant. Moses asked God, Who shall I say sent me? God tells him to say ‘I who am, sent you’. This name of God, ‘I am’ was important for the Jews of the Lord’s time and today. Jesus uses it several times in St. John’s Gospel. I am the Good Shepherd. I am the light of the world. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the gate of the sheep fold. I am the bread of life. When asked if He is a king the Lord replies simply, I am. He also proclaims, I and the Father are One…to have seen me is to have seen the Father. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 10:38). St. John makes it very clear that this is revealed by the Lord Himself and the faith of the Church – “Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” (Phil 2: 6-7a). But we see also the clear humanity of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel and in the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus is born, grows, matures, he is weary, caring, funny, challenging and ultimately suffers and dies.
For us, our God is a very human God because He became like us in all things but sin. Therefore Pope St. Leo the Great says : “True God, then, was born in the complete and perfect nature of true man, completely human and completely divine. By human, I mean that nature which the Creator founded in us at the beginning, and which he undertook to restore. For there was no trace whatever in our Saviour of those elements which were introduced into us by the deceiver, and to which man, when deceived, allowed entrance. Nor does it follow that because he undertook to share with us our weakness, he thereby shared our sins (Letter 28).
The solemnity of the Annunciation comes from the 5th century and is celebrated in all the major Christian traditions. It is of course no accident that it is celebrated exactly nine months before Christmas. Nor is it an accident that it is celebrated around the time of the Spring equinox just as Christmas is celebrated around the time of the winter equinox.
Although we think of Christmas as the feast of the Incarnation in reality it is this feast of the Annunciation which celebrates the very first moment of God’s enfleshing in womb of the Blessed Virgin and our world. We believe that at the very moment of conception a new and unique life begins. From that moment of conception nothing extra, other than nutrition, will be genetically added to the baby. It is then, at this moment that God takes our human nature to Himself – Heaven and earth in little space, time and eternity wedded together, God and man in one person.
The solemnity of the Annunciation is a beautiful feast, not so much of Our Lady but of the Lord’s redeeming love, because God did not wait until we were perfect, ‘but came to us whilst we were still in our sin’.
Of course Our Lady is central to the Incarnation, it is her ‘fiat’ her ‘Yes’ to God which the Lord uses for our salvation. She who is the greatest Tabernacle of God on earth, gives her simple and courageous ‘Yes’ to all the Lord can and will do through her. As we approach this most strange and difficult Holy Week and Easter she stands as a reminder that with the Lord all things are possible. The Good Lord uses courageous hearts as a means of grace. She who is full of grace became the channel of redeeming love, which is in truth a person, the person of Jesus.
On Sunday we will rededicate our country once again as The Dowry of Mary. It is a title which our forebears were honoured to have for our country and one which should fill us with pride too. We are sometimes accused of worshipping Mary or at least giving her too much honour. No one and nothing can be the first in our hearts other then the Lord God. But a great saint once said that we should never be afraid of loving Mary too much because we could never love her as much as He did!
On this solemnity of the Annunciation let us commend ourselves, loved ones and whole country to the prayers and protection of Our Lady of Walsingham. Let us learn from the one who was the Lord’s first and greatest disciple. Let us draw near to her as the greatest of the saints and as the Mother of the Church. With courage, faith, hope and love in these most difficult of times we may be ever faithful to her Son,
Jesus the one who alone can save.