We can define the church as the community where we are being healed from our addictions. In the church we become aware of our dependences and learn how to keep them at bay.
Saint Paul’s letter further enhances this definition. In this community, we imitate our Saviour. ‘Our one desire is that every one of you should go on showing the same earnestness to the end, to the perfect fulfilment of our hopes, never growing careless, but imitating those who have their faith and the perseverance to inherit the promises.’ (Hebrews 6:10-20) This imitation implies an almost unconscious attention to values and virtues in others of which source is the person of Jesus, the way in which he lived among us.
This is a special form of the ‘apostolic succession’. The loving deeds of our Lord, the gestures of his love were also passed on to the apostles, and later Christians. It is good to think of this ‘rich memory of the Gospel’, being present in each of us. When we recognise and imitate the goodness and Christian thinking of others, we imitate the source, our Lord.
Video version: https://youtu.be/4F0WGKqvOOI
I remember the words of my spiritual director from decades ago. ‘God is calling every young man and women for the sanctity of life. Every young person, at a stage of their lives, hears the call to the priesthood, or to dedicate themselves to God alone (like in religious life).’ This call can vanish, it can remain unanswered. Today’s readings are about this call. They invite us to revisit this voice in us. “‘Samuel, Samuel!’ Samuel answered, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” (1 Samuel 3:10)
The loving Father invites everyone to be part of the Kingdom of God. All of us have a role, a very unique contribution that no one else can do. Every baptised person is like an ‘embassy’. Where we live our task is to transform that spot into the Kingdom of God and order it and fill it up with its life.
But happens to this call? What happens to this voice in us? Why is it fading away, as abandoned churches, places of worship sold out and converted into pubs are echoing this question. Our second reading, Paul’s letter (1 Corinthians 6:13-15), in a very straightforward way, helps to answer this question. ‘Keep away from fornication!’ - the apostle says. Our call to love God and our neighbour, our vision of how we should live with Christ, the desire to be with Him in prayer and compassion can be gradually erased from our heart. Personal and collective sins, it is only matter of time, will lead to this erasure.
So when we read cheerfully the enthusiastic question of the first disciples - we should do it with a desire to repent. ‘Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, “What do you want?” They answered, “Rabbi where do you live?” “Come and see” he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day.’ (John 1:37-39) Other translations say, ‘Come and you will see!’
Let us rejoice in these words today. For we have found in them the very source of our Baptismal vows. Let us ‘unbury’ and clearly see those things which dulled and tarnished our active role in the Kingdom of God. Let us repent; that is the importance of confessing one’s sins and do it aright.
When we rejoice with the first disciples that ‘we have found the Messiah’ of our soul something important happens. First, we realise that we are called to be different set apart from the bad practices of the world: idolatry, prostitution (or fornication), and warfare. But on a personal level, we realise and admit our own addictions, as all of us are addicted to something. When we say that ‘we have found the Messiah’, we can rejoice over the fact that part of our being Christians is being healed from our addictions. Let us celebrate with Andrew and Peter, that the church is the place where we gain our ultimate freedom.
Every generation is given a leader, a leading voice of orientation. It is best not to miss that voice, as there might be only few. These teachers, in the Church, are illuminated by the wisdom of Christ. They are pointing to their source.
Pope Francis, his papacy, is such a prophetic voice. He has understood that the world has changed. Old cultural wars between secularisation and the church, somehow, have become secondary. Francis is a leader who recognised that our world is locked up in a global interdependence. Yet, and this is his prophetic voice, mutual dependence can lead to freedom. Developing a sense of global solidarity, establishing a covenant which includes humans and nature itself, leads to a renewed sense of moral action; and to a profound moral commitment.
In the light of what he teaches, our task is the discernment. The stake is as to whether we will be ones ‘who grasp God’s ways’ or ‘people who refuse to grasp my [God’s] ways’. In the latter case, we will continue to be ‘unreliable’, like an unreliable machine, with all the consequences.
To this unreliability, Pope Francis posits a simple programme. Actually, it aptly sums up his teaching. He invites us to make to conscious choice to be people whose desire is welcome Christ, here and now.
The human being has an exceptional capacity. We can ‘transcend’ (step over) what is given and bring something new out of it. Think of technical innovations, like our ever-developing tools. Most importantly, we can create something new when we think in a fresh way. When we give a moral answer to a challenging situation and act rightly - this is genuine transcendence. We are ‘stepping over’ a present constraint.
In order to achieve this, we need resources. We Christians (but this is the point of all religions) have this extra point of view, which is Revelation. We need God’s self-revelation as our guidance. For reality by itself is not a sufficient guarantor of our freedom. We need someone, the Son of God, who gives a distance from our wounded present.
‘Real is something which is not in the news’, in the ‘given’. We need Jesus, as a ‘super-real’ friend, interlocutor and Master. That is why he is the Redeemer. Today’s readings celebrate him in this capacity. He is different, he is always freeer than we, the children of history. ‘This becomes even more clearly evident when there appears a second Melchizedek, who is a priest not by virtue of a law about physical descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. You are a priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever.’
The healing on the Sabbath-day just confirms this ‘super-freedom’ of Jesus. He is ‘not in the news’, he is much more than a law-book of the time. He is ‘super-real’, the genuine source of freedom. He is never confined to the ‘small prints’ of our imagination.
Water, the material of baptism, is a powerful symbol, and one of our most powerful experiences. What are your memories of water? When I visited Arthur (video-conversation during the lockdown) this week-end, he became most alive when he talked about his Island, back in the Caribbean's. ‘It is a small place, but the sea, and its water is beautiful.’
Personally, my two earliest memories are about water. When I was four, I was playing in the yard of my grandparents. I remember, suddenly, without any reason (it was a heatwave?) I fainted and lost consciousness. Still, I saw my parents rushing to me, in desperation. My father run with me to the well, and then, I remember, that slowly, which seemed to be an eternity, the cold water brought me back to life. It was life giving. The other early memory is from the same place. In the old days my grandparents stored the water in blue, metallic water cans. I remember how much I enjoyed drinking the cool fresh water from its cup. As a child, in the break of playing, it was such a delight? What are your positive memories of life-giving water?
We raise this question for an important reason. For these positive memories, in a mysterious way, are connected to Jesus’ baptism. Water is always life-giving, refreshing, and purifying. It is not accidental, that water is the so called ‘material element’ of the sacrament of Baptism. The invisible grace of God is expressed through this visible sign. Our memories, related to the water of Life, is important. Through them we understand that the events of our lives are expressions of God’s providence. They are ‘visible signs’ of his grace - similarly than in the case of the sacraments. Our life is always sacred, and connected to the very source of the Sacred, God’s glory itself.
What about Jesus’ memories of water? As his participation of our lives. Our Lord always took delight in water. Think of the wedding feast of Cana, when he changed the water into wine. Or, when the stormy Galilean-sea obeyed him. He walked on water. He invited the first disciples at the lakeside. He was baptised in the water of River Jordan. It was at this water when his public ministry started in joy, and the Holy Spirit descended on him when he emerged from the water. What a beautiful memory it must have been for Jesus.
Today, on the Feast of our Lord’s Baptism, let us rejoice in the life-giving power of the water of our baptism. Jesus sanctified it, and our baptism washed away our sins, and we became the children of God again. Let us recall the joyful moments of our faith, the gifts of life that we enjoyed as Christians. Friendship, the birth of children in our families, our work. Let us try to see all these gifts as stemming from our baptismal water; and Jesus’ baptism for all of us.
Let it be, however, more than a nostalgic retrospection. Let us admit to God our thirst for the Water of Life. More than ever, we need a healing water, which brings peace, safety, and joy amidst our present anxieties. The Baptism of the Lord is a powerful reminder of how dependent we are on His healing power. Let us renew our commitment: Lord, the world needs you more than ever. Make us servants of your healing arrival.
We need to see ‘beyond the liturgy’. Attending the Eucharistic celebration has its form. We are attending a religious ritual. We follow its structure, the gestures, and movements of worship. It is different from the rest of our day, from where we are coming and returning to. This is the level of the ‘ritual’.
However, we must be aware that what happens in our liturgy is real. That is why we need to see beyond the ‘form’ we mentioned. At one point, what we experience as ‘liturgy’ or ceremony must disappear and, as it were, the Gospel becomes visible. Like through a window, we can see what had happened to the disciples. Most importantly, the liturgy reveals that it is happening to us, right now.
On this level, we don’t come to the liturgy - but we come, as a crowd, to him. At his table, he takes pity on us, ‘because, we are like sheep without a shepherd’. Jesus finds us, people of today, disoriented, uncertain, even frightened of what is happening in the world or in our lives. He recognises the hunger in us. This morning, he makes us sit in groups, in order to feed us. He feeds us with his words, ‘he sets himself to teach us at some length.’ Then, when he breaks the bread, he feeds us ‘with loaves and fish’, too. We should recognise in the food on our table, in our breakfast, lunch and dinner that it is he who is feeding us. The miracle of our daily bread is there! The miracle of our daily spiritual renewal is also there. Without him they would not be.
All our task is to process the miracle of life that happens to us on a daily base. And we are to continue and share this life, daily: ‘My dear people, let us love one another since love comes from God.’ (1 John 4:7-10)
‘Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.’ Epiphany marks out the centre of our life. Everything relates to this center. As the appearance of God among us is the center of salvation history, everyone who is saved must connect to this center, the person of Jesus Christ.
However, Epiphany is not about dividing the world into black and white opposites. Saved vs ‘massa damnata’ or the unsaved. Just the opposite. Epiphany is a gentle center that connects everything. Yes, the saved and the unsaved are part of this web. But what is most important is to realise that everything is connected. And all, who are part of this big web, are responsible for all the parts.
So, Epiphany challenges us with a vision. If there is someone who has strong faith - there is an invisible ‘twin’ brother or sister who does not have faith. If someone is healthy or successful, there is a ‘twin’, again, who is struggling, lacks health. Rich and poor, upbeat and depressed, animate inanimate, we are all part of the web of Salvation. Consequently, Epiphany gives us the responsibility to pray for our ‘twins’. That is the only way that our world can become a better place.
John’s letter (3:11-12) marks out the extremes of the human being. He warns that we can be suspended between hatred and love. Instead of being determined by mistrust and negativity towards the other, ‘we are to love one another; not to be like Cain, who belonged to the Evil One and cut his brother’s throat.’
The passage from is like a moral hymn for our Covid 19 stricken times. We have to revise how we see our fellow human beings. It is a time for solidarity. It is a time for social-cooperation, care and attention in order to overcome the epidemic.
John’s words, actually, help us to see ourselves as part of the same human family. He names our divisions. But most importantly, he names the forces of cohesion, truth and love. When truth, co-joint with love, in and through us, become active.‘My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active, only by this can we be certain that we are the children of truth.’
The Christmas-season, and now the Epiphany-season was about trust in God. Our ability to trust our God was restored by God himself. He did it in a way which regards us humans as partners. The Incarnation, Jesus’ being born in modest circumstances, facing dangers, and fleeing to Egypt required our care for him. God emphasized the importance of trust in him by showing his trust in us. That we are capable of a partnership. First, by the human love of Mary and Joseph, then, in Jesus’ teaching ministry, by the disciples love for him. Which trust - our love for Him - is now our turn.
This trust in the invisible God, our trust in the ‘invisible’, is crucial. Today, when the vaccination of all is so important, we encounter the inability to trust in the ‘invisible’ again. People don’t believe in w hat they can’t see. They refuse it. Yet, these are the moments when transposing our capacity to believe would be so vital for the community. So, we can see that ‘disbelief’, not believing in God - actually, is a cultural failure, too. And let us think about it: the climate change, air pollution in our cities, the pollution of the seas, indeed, has a mysterious link with our ability to be able to trust and hope, and thus see God. That’s why our witness to Christmas and the Epiphany is so vital.
Science Fiction films can be good illustrations of our most fundamental desires. The astronauts on their journeys in space revaluate persons and events from their past. Those, whom they left behind they appreciate and love more and more. Their love gets purified, they are determined to amend all their mistakes. Not space, only love connects them. What is interesting in sci-fi movies is that both the present, and in particular, the future becomes really important. There is a desire to continue.
From the series, Away, what stroke me most is the passion of the astronauts to arrive to Mars. They loved their mission to represent humankind and arrive first to the planet. Love connected earth and their destination, love, running straight through their hearts. Our entrance antiphon from Wisdom comes to mind to illustrate the ‘real fuel’ of their journey. ‘When a profound silence covered all things and night was in the middle of its course, your all-powerful Word, O Lord, bounded from heaven’s royal throne.’ For us, it is like the sight of our destination through the windows of our own spaceship, Life.
Today’s feast, Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus’ divinity. Let us think about it with the help of our metaphor, the spaceship, and the astronauts. It is like Jesus’ own ‘space-travel’, from the Father’s love to our Redemption. He needs to arrive to our planet and renew life, in order to rescue us and make our Planet (our life) liveable and beautiful again. Our second reading connects our Lord with his origins, his Father, his departure from the heavenly abode. ‘Then the creator of all things instructed me, and he who created me fixed a place for my tent… From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and from eternity I shall remain…’ (Ecclesiasticus 24:8-12)
Being a Christian means that we remember Jesus’ journey for us. The liturgy which we celebrate is our wonderful time-machine. A mysterious spaceship, when we can join Jesus on his journey to our salvation. Today’s feast is a wonderful moment, when through love and grace, we can join him and stand besides him at the window of his spaceship. We can remember with him the Father’s love, which sent us into this world. ‘Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence, determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ.’ (Ephesians 1:3-6) And John’s gospel, his Logos-hymn has shown us the whole span of Jesus journey for us.
So let us think creatively, how you would think further this metaphor. If our Sunday worship is our ‘spaceship’, what happens when you touch down? What transformation of our day-to-day life can we bring in fulfilling our mission? Or like in the film, Away, whose face we cherish, which relationships we want to repair? What are our joys and hopes in our Christian journey?
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..