Yesterday, on BBC2, there was a documentary about this year’s Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. In it, one could follow few artist’s preparation, the excitement of their going through the selection process. It was very emotional, and equally challenging for all of them. This is the dream of life for an artist, established or unknown. Out of eighteen thousand works, a thousand was selected, of which the selection committee choose the best five hundred. A friend of our parish, Garry exhibited his late father’s work. We, his friends, followed his dedication to the cause, and his final success.
Both, the way the artists brought their life-time effort to fruition, and the moving story of Garry’s father, is highly expressive of how and what we celebrate at Harvest Festival. Which feast, this year, is combined with the ‘harvest of our parish’, the feast of its Dedication, the 93rd year anniversary of its existence.
When we bring the fruits of the summer it is about far more than beautifully decorating our church. Every year, these fruits also represent us. Their colour and taste is an expression of our efforts to become better persons year by year.
Dedication, sheds a further light on today’s thanksgiving. Harvest is about the encounter between God, the Creator, and us, his creatures. Let us imagine Him, as he is indeed, our powerful King. Kings have many places in their palaces. It is their custom, that in order not to overwhelm their subjects and courtiers with their majesty, they withdraw to their inner chambers. During the year, leading up to ‘harvest time’, kind of this is the case. God’s glory is not that obvious; he hides himself, as it were, while we work. However, there are special moments, when the King chooses to be revealed. This happens among us on Sundays. He vests himself in the words of our liturgy, in the words of our prayers. Today, on the Feast of Dedication, we are expressly called to ‘look at his Church’, which he chooses to reveal his Glory. In the Eucharist, in the Holy Communion, the King summons us and shows himself to our senses. When he blesses our Harvest, he also calls for our full attention and thanksgiving.
So, harvest festival is a bit like realising where we are, in whose palace, in whose chamber of throne we are. Today we understand, that the great King, in the person of Our Lord, in his words, speaks to us. Face to face, directly to us, individually and as a community. In these moments, in the presence of the king, when he is talking to us, it would be an unimaginable offense to turn to our neighbour or friend, and start a private conversation. Harvest festival and Dedication are great reminders of the nature of our worship, how special it is to come to church and worship our God. What a privilege it is.
And just as in the case of the exhibiting artists at the RA, or in our own case when we bring our own life efforts before our Lord, God also brings to us his whole life, his self-offering for us, self-emptying for us, which has been going on from all eternity. Harvest festival, as it was mentioned, about this two-fold encounter.
If we mirror God’s openness, and kenosis, the real significance of Harvest Festival, and Dedication is revealed. Something new can begin. Our inner renewal can take place. A positive turning point in our local life, nay, in world history can begin. And we so desperately need this beginning anew in these challenging times.
To conclude, there is this underlying practical message of our feast. What will be our offering for the coming harvest in the present circumstances? How, in what ways can we continue our worship and Christian way of life, in the coming months marked by the presence of Covid 19? How do you keep engaging with your local church community, and its worship? How do we witness that Covid 19 does not break us? We must give our answers in thought, payer, and deed.
The stake is joyful, the stake is high. We, Christians must recognize that the main danger is the break-down of the desire to worship God in community. The cycle of imitating Christ, offering our hearts as a harvest week in and week out, is a visible witness. It socializes others, our youth picks up this cycle of faithfulness without words. Our lives these months is a form of martyrdom. Let us recognize these challenging times as such a call for love and faithfulness.
In these months of the global pandemic, we are pining for festive meals and joy with family and friends. We are waiting for our churches to be full again with chanting voices. That’s why, the words of Isaiah, just enhance this intensity of this yearning. ‘The Lord of hosts will prepare a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines, a food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines.’ Are the words of Revelation in this passage out of joint? No, they have not lost their timeliness. Feasting and pure joy is not a nostalgia. The happiness it promises is not a utopia either which we will never be able to reach again. On the contrary, God is so realistic. He is fully aware that we need healing first. As our text continues, ‘On this mountain he will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples, and the should enwrapping all nations, he will destroy Death for ever. The Lord will wipe away the tears from very cheek.’
On a personal level, the words of a famous Jewish payer are echoing. ‘Who will live, and who will die?... Who by plague?... Who will be brought low, and who will be raised up?’ We feel the devastating effects of the pandemic all around us. Many of us, on top of our fears, have relatives or friends hospitalised, because of illness or accident. And this can easily lead us to dispair. That’s why, our inner compass should be the emphasis of Isaiah: ‘See, this is our God in whom we hoped for salvation; the Lord is the one in whom we hoped.’ This emphasis is so profoundly healing when said in the present tense: ‘look, thisis our God in whom we hope for salvation, the Lord is the one in whom we hope!’ This, and the prayer I quoted, also urges us to summon our better selves through taking action: repentance, prayer, and righteousness.
This tripartite call only culminates in the Gospel. The same choice is laid before us. Should we turn down our invitation to ‘the king’s feast’? Should we give up our previous, pre-pandemic enthusiasm, and commitment? Because of the pandemic, should we give up our religious practice and belonging to our local church? Or, shall we overcome our fears, and renew our covenant with God and our faith in Him?
Reaching that tipping point of returning from our exiles is the crucial moment. Maimonides, in a similarly difficult period, felt similarly. And this is the testimony of many saints throughout the centuries. Saint Francis, Saint Theresa of Lisieaux, Saint Maximilian Kolbe could have said the same. ‘Every person is capable of improving the whole world through performing even one good deed.’ (Mishnah Torah, Laws of Repentance, 3:4) By wearing a mask, feeding the hungry, calling our friends, or promoting justice in our communities. Each of us has the potential to tip the scales just enough to transform the world for God. As a community of faith, we Christians together have the potential to transform our Covid-19 stricken world. We can sow the seed of the joy of the kingdom of heave, that of ‘king who gave a feast for his son’s wedding’, Jesus said.
May this joy indeed come to pass, and may we see the day soon when we all join together in community to mark our feasts, and Eucharists, which we can celebrate, hopefully, soon, in full numbers. So let us work, and live, our days, as our Lord intended us to live. Let us learn to pray and live the underlying request of our Lord’s Prayer. ‘Give us with our daily bread our daily joy!’ And let in this joy the healing that our world needs come! Amen.
In the Jewish calendar there is a feast, of which symbol, the tent, made of fresh branches, resonates well with the theme of Christian ‘baptism’. It was a feast, as we know from Nehemiah (8:14-18), when they Jews returned from their exile. Moses instructed this feast. ‘Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” So, the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths.’
Sukkoth is celebrated not in the actual time of the Exodus, when spring comes with warm wind and the sun is promising the beauty of summer but when cold winds begin to blow and drizzling rains sudden the autumn.
The birth and bringing up of a child, is the fruit of their parents’ hard work. Baptising the child, is a reminder that it is an ongoing journey. In a sense, baptism is a reminder of the fact that life is fragile, it needs support, extra care. In the Christian baptism we confess, that we need God’s help. Today we are standing in front of God, like the Jews when they built their fragile tents. This feast falls on the autumn. To dwell in booths in the spring was no trial of their belief in providence. To do so at the approach of winter is to proclaim to the world that the chosen people were prepared to face hardship for their covenant with God.
The Bible does not give a detailed direction for the building of the Sukkoth-tent. Neither does it define what constitutes ‘dwelling’ in it. It is a bit like with parenting and baptism, the covenantal journey of the parents itself. The actual erection of the booth was an adventure in which young and old used to participate with enthusiasm. Surrounding themselves with life’s necessities in this imperfect temporary abode, the Jews were further reminded of their uncertain lease of life and of the need at all times to cast their eyes heavenward. They re-lived the experiences of their ancestors, how joyful it was to be liberated by God and return to the promised land. They remembered the sufferings and hardships of their forefather. They gave wholeheartedly thanks for their liberation and God’s grace.
Baptism within the liturgy shows us in a similar position. We know that God will richly bless this child, and her family, but we have to be ready to work for the child’s future. There will be hardships in this new Christian life, which is about to begin soon. But we know that God will give, can give, her a safe arrival to the full joy of Christian faith. Until then, parents, godparents, relatives, and members of our congregation will be the child’s ‘tent-builders’.
We are reminded by our symbol of the ‘shaky nature’ of the booth, of which branches the stars of the sky, or the rainy clouds can be seen. We have to be aware that keeping the Christian faith alive is a laborious work. Setting an example to remain faithful to our baptismal vows, saying no to the works of Satan, saying a full yes to God’s goodness, and the godly way of life, is a hard toiling. But during our joint journey with the child we shall be enjoying heavenly protection.
For us, Christians, the feast of baptism, is our ‘feast of the Tabernacles’. When we think back to our own journey into faith, from our baptism, we are reminded of the hardships, and the moments of being lost on this journey. But this child’s feast, the symbols of the fulfilment of faith (anointing with the oil of the Catechumens, the oil of the Chrism, and the candle of faith), is also an anticipation of our ultimate happiness with God, which we shall enjoy in our final abode, in the House of Love, Heaven.
The Feast of the Tabernacles have another important symbol, the four plants used in the feast. The golden citrus and the tall palm branch, decked with sprigs of flowering myrtle and graceful willow, the four species, mentioned in Lev 23:40. They represent four different types of persons, each with his or her own virtues and shortcomings, who all combine in one common effort to serve God. Thus, the Etrog, a fruit both pleasant in appearance and in fragrance, typifies comeliness, fragrance of reputation and fruitful activity. The willow, those who lack both beauty and fragrance, who produce no fruit and wilt easily. The myrtle which is fragrant and comely in appearance but bears no fruit, resembles the pious who are not productive; while the Lulav, possessor of stately height and fruit-bearing even in the desert, typifies those who have endurance, dignity and good-will and give of their best in thought and action.
These plants resemble also the four chief organs of the human body. The Etrog resembles the heart; both must be flawless. The willow is shaped like the mouth; as the former drinks of the water by the side of which it grows, so must the latter drink at the perennial fount of the Bible. They myrtle, cast in the shape of the human eye, bids us be pleasant in character; while the Lulav, fashioned like the spinal cord, is a sermon in uprightness.
The Baptism which we celebrate today, and the work of support to the newly baptised, are similarly reminders of the Christian virtues. Starting with the theological virtues, faith, hope, and love, as it comes purely from God. So, let our task be to think about those virtues, those human virtues, which all of us must practice, in order that this child might arrive to a fully adult Christian faith, and that we ourselves might arrive to our final abode, which God has prepared for us. So, let the building blocks of this child’s journey be these virtues, Temperance, Humanity, Charity, benevolence, generosity, sacrifice, diligence, patience, kindness, humanitas, satisfaction, compassion, and humility
Last Sunday, a mother of three was deeply moved by a sermon from the Norbertine abbey-church. It deeply spoke to her experience of her three daughters. This particular image stayed with her. ‘On a trip, the boy was carrying his younger brother for miles, as he twisted his ancle. When they arrived, the host of the family told him: it must have been quite a burden to you, it must have been a heavy weight. The boy replied, it is not a burden, he is my brother.’
This banal illustration has a profound truth. This truth makes us Christians. We are baptised in the Lord in order to perceive our neighbours in difficult situations just as the boy did in the example of the sermon. He is not a burden: he is my brother.
This wise saying remains a ‘nice saying’ unless we fully understand what is at stake. Today’s readings direct us towards what is at stake, and even more. God clearly tells us that the quality of life we live together depends on our ability to forgive. Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven. If a man nurses anger against another, can he then demand compassion from the Lord?’ Without God, and our faith in our Saviour, it is a mission impossible. Without the Lord as our daily friend, and our toiling on this friendship, our heart will never forgive those who hurt us. On the x-ray image of our hearts what do angels see? Most often our grudges, our unfinished conflicts, our book-keeping of offences and the fault (the blame on) of others.
With our Lord, on our side, this impossible leap is possible. ‘Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times. Unless we can see the offender as our brother and sister in the Lord, forgiving will remain for us a heavy burden. The boy in our story could have said, ‘yes, it was a heavy burden. I am dead tired because of it.’ He would have been right, just as we are right when saying, ‘forgiving is an impossibly heavy burden.’ Yet, with the Eucharist we receive, with the Lord’s daily friendship, with prayer life, and through the daily experience of Divine Love, we can imitate our Lord. Who sees only his brothers and sisters, and not a heavy burden.
Our readings take us even further than realising what is at stake in our forgiving. The quality of our life, that of the community, wholly depends on practicing this ‘impossible forgiveness’. ‘The life and death of each of us has its influence on others.’ The increase or decrease of violence, mistrust, lies, dishonesty, greediness, and indifference in our culture depends solely on us. Our world becomes a better world, a healthier world, a more beautiful world, a more peaceful world if we take up the cross of this impossible task of forgiving.
For when we forgive, we not only reduce violence, and bring the air of peace into the world. Far more happens than that. When we forgive, joy and light come into our life. We get focused, our thinking becomes more efficient, our mind and heart gets more clear, our emotions are more positive and constructive.
Let us think of the victory of the boy in our example, and the victory of Our Lord, which made possible his beautiful confession. He or she is not a burden; not an enemy, not a rival. ‘He is my brother; my sister.’ It is not a burden; ‘It is the Lord!’
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A beautiful image of our Christian dignity, though not a direct one. ‘I place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; should he open, one shall close, should he close, none shall open…he will become a throne of glory for his father’s house’ (Is 22:23) This shows the dignity of the Christian soul, in our relationship to the office of our Lord. An image comes to our mind, as it were, all of us are ‘knighted’, again, indirectly, by the Father.
All of our readings invite us to see on the side of Christ. They invite us to see the dignity which the participation in his work enthrusts upon us. Thaty is why we pray:‘I thank you, Lord, with all my heart: you have heard the wrods of my mouth.’ This image, from our responsorial psalm, highlights ‘the role of our mouth’, the importance of a permanent and regular prayer.
Thus, as our second reading shows us, we can contemplate ‘how rich are the depths of God, how deep his wisdom and knowledge, and how impossible to penetrate his motives and understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord?...To him be glory for ever!’
Regular prayer, both in words and in charity, will enable us to repeat Peter’s words: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!’ Let us think about, what happens, when we share these words. Let it be our prayer, repeated in many times, in many situations. This prayer will make a wonderful difference. Our joy will be increased, the wounds we caused to others, and the ones we received, will be healed, and our heart, and our world, will become more beautiful. At least, closer to the beauty where it is supposed to be.
Let me share a detail of an icon, which shows Christ’s face. The exercise is simple. Just contemplate the beauty of Christ’s divine lips. See in it the wisdom of the eternal Son of God, his outpouring and healing love, the words of his teaching ministry. These lips spoke to Peter; they spoke to the Father, and they are speaking to us. The ‘exercise’ is to link our own mouth to that of our Saviour. Let us imitate him, let us see the positivity of his words, which left his lips, the thoughts, which were formed into words, which went through his throat and toungue. Let this Love purify our thoughts, our mouth, our breathing.
Let we speak, and think, and act, as Jesus intends us to speak, think and act. Let our first words be, before anything else that follows, good resolutions, prayers, those of Saint Peter. ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!’
Today’s readings are interesting in terms of God’s interest in us. In brief, God is interested in our story. He never becomes indifferent to what is happening to us. So our special focus today is God’s leaning towards us; towards you. And this is at the heart of Christian witness: God’s divine Love is interested in us! When we pray in the words of the Psalmist, it is only seemingly a one-way communication: ‘O God, you are my God, for you I long.’ But this is not so. Our Gospel acclamation, the prayer with which we welcomed the Gospel, already shifted the emphasis: ‘May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our mind, so that we can see what hope his call holds for us.’
God’s being interested in us lies at the heart of Christian witness. Whatever happens in the world, we are to live as sign posts to the truth that God has never lost interest in our story. In a world of religious indifferentism people are entrapped in their narcissistic ego. Without this witness we are creating an ego (‘me’) centered world.
That’s the value of the ‘Christian personalism’. First, we witness to that God is always interested in our personal stories. God is listening to Isaiah’s personal ordeals. For God, Isaiah’s vocation is precious, just as our personal vocations where we live. ‘You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced; you have overpowered me: you were the stronger.’ And then God listens to Isaiah’s need to be rescued: ‘Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not bear it.’
Then, our second witness is that God never loses interest in us a praying community: ‘Think of God’s mercy, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God.’ God is tireless in forgiving and mercy.
The Gospel fulfils God’s witness to his faithful interest in our lives. Jesus is sent to take upon himself all the sins of the world. His Cross is the sign that, that, literally, for God all lives matter. ‘Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. ’ (Mat 16:21-22)
So let us be challenged by the ending of the Gospel. How would you read Peter’s ‘protest’ to see the Son of God in sufferance for us? How would you read Jesus’ response in terms of our witness? ’If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.’
As followers of Christ, let us join him, and show through our lives and thinking that God, through his Love, is interested in the lives of our neighbours and communities. What forms of witness do you have in mind?
The feast of the Assumption remembers how Mary, at the moment of her death, immediately was taken up to Heaven. The feast celebrates the fulfilment of her complete co-operation with God’s plan for our salvation. All this started with her first Fiat, (let it be according to your will, and continued via her many ‘yes-es’ in support of her son’s redemptive work.)
However, we also celebrate in her our own hoped arrival to the House of Love. She was ‘the first citizen’ of Heaven, who entered it from among us. ‘Let us pray that we will join Mary, the mother of the Lord, in the glory of heaven.’ (Opening Prayer)
These are those aspects of the feast, which our believing intellect can grasp and understand through faith. The human person (‘the speaking being’) starts its journey into language when listening and looking up our mother’s words and face. Similarly, today’s feast is about contemplating Our Mother in order to ‘imitate’ her, and learn the language of our coming life. One of the first 'words' we learn is Mary’s yes to God’s will. ‘Let it be according to Thy word!’ Like the repeating heartbeats of our faith.
But there is a second ‘region’ of meaning of the Assumption. In the coming week, let us meditate on it, all of us, individually… Let us ask ourselves, why is the celebration of the Mother of God is so important, nay, timely today? What is the message of Mary’s divine motherhood? Why is she such an important ‘blueprint’ of our human love? For that human love, which, as she has shown, can intermingle with divine Love itself? In answering this question, I mention two reasons here.
Julia Kristeva observes, as a criticism, that Christianity’s is the last discourse on motherhood, and Life itself, we could add. Our secular culture, which is so clever in many ways, gives zero instruction and support to what it means to be a mother. Our Christian faith, unfalteringly, keeps us evaluating and appreciating the unique role of mothers, and fathers.
Two third of today’s children grow up without the experience of a father’s love. Perhaps the same can be said, in a symbolic way, that two third of people grow up without ‘the Father’s love’, the most precious experience of being brought up in the family of the Church.
That is why it is so important to hold in our hands the ‘hologram’ of the completeness of Love. This unbroken and wholeness of Love is there; is always offered to us to be healed by, to be nourished by, to be guided by, to be brought up by.
If broken families, broken individuals, broken societies -broken neighbourhoods -could contemplate this Emmanuel, this Love-with-us, through our Lady as the mother of all, it would make the missing difference in our lives. It would not sort out our problems, yet, it would be a beginning, a beginning anew with God. Just as the Mary and Joseph had to undertake a challenging, many times a seemingly impossible journey, full of dangers. The Assumption assures us that our paths can be ‘taken up’, and we can continue our journey closer to God, closer to the life and happiness God has envisioned for us, from our mother’s womb.
Finally, the Feast of the Assumption also wants us to be realistic. It is not about an idealising of our coming state. The Assumption is not an escapism into an ideal world vs. the confines of our daily life. Mary's return from earth to Heaven embraces all aspects of our lives. It is a celebration of our daily toiling, the banalities of existence. Not simply that our coming 'assumption' will sanctify it. Today's feast is the celebration of the value of the present moment, that of our present day. For they ground our coming life. They create opportunities to get closer to God. Every single day is part of our soul's ascension. Let us celebrate this mystery today with the Mother of God.
All of our readings in today’s mass can be summed up in a single theme. Namely, how we genuine faith connects us with God. What is the nature of this connection? Why and how is it different from any other power of attachment? Elija finds God not in powerful voices and external spectacles but in ‘the sound of a gentle breeze’. Apostle Paul describes the soul’s union with Christ when our ‘conscience is in union with the Holy Spirit.’ In the Gospel, we saw Peter and Jesus walking on the water, amidst the waves of a heavy sea. The apostle is hold above the water by his faith in Jesus, when his soul is peaceful and doubtless, and rescued by him, when that faith wavers. Inner peace connects him to his Master.
What is your Isaiah-moment of faith? What are your moments of ‘the gentle breath’, what makes you aware of God’s presence? Or, what are those moments, when you are seeking him in the wrong place, in ‘noisy power’, ‘earthquake’ and ‘fire’? What is the strategy, we all have to develop individually, to feel God’s invisible love?
Just after the horrors of the Second World War, the Hungarian writer (silenced by the communists) focused on this hidden presence of God. Despite the different context, it is the same problem: how and where can we perceice God in a world which does not want to seek him? In his book, The Philosophy of Wine, he writes: ‘I decided to write a prayer book for the atheists… I am aware of the difficulty of my task… I know that I cannot utter the word “God”. I must speak of him by using all sorts of other names such as kiss, or intoxication, or cooked ham. I chose wine as the most important name.’ Hence the title of his book, of which opening motto is ‘after all, too will remain, God and the wine.’
What do you choose, from among the variety of your experiences ‘as the most important name’ for God?
Because we must choose a name. Everybody does. And the options are either to find God in the wrong or the right place. To illustrate the point, I have found another quote, this time from a political activist. (You know my opinion about them, they are grave-diggers of truth and peace in society, which peace and social cohesion is the precondition for seeking truth.) ‘When we need to roll out we are uniformed and we can take that energy to our communities. The reason why a lot of youths get into the gangs is because they see the strongest thing is the gangs – they look up to the power…We don’t want to negotiate, we don’t want to sing songs, we don’t bring signs to a gunfight. We are an eye-for-an-eye organisation… We are preparing the community to be able to defend itself from any attack.’
We Christians have a great responsibility and a call for discernment. Is God in the voice of power and aggression? This is not a poetical question for which the answer we can take to be granted. Peter’s sinking when losing Jesus out of focus shows this. Our disappearing in the ‘raging sea’ of our age is a real danger. Our times is buzzing with the fake messiahs. Their tempting voice is followed by aggression, violence and destruction. That’s the nature of evil; devil’s pottery with fragile lives.
That’s why it is so important to live consciously with Jesus, and spend our best hours of the day with him. We need to cry daily with Peter, ‘Lord, save me!’ And to this request, Jesus always says: ‘Come!’ Let us go, and seek Him in the right place, where he is. Let us be different, as we ought to be, in our response to the question, ‘where God can be found?’ In the sound of a gentle breeze, in the conscience in union with the Holy Spirit, in our courage to cling to Christ. So, in other words, what are the deeds which reveal God’s presence most? In our coming week.
Being Embraced by God (18 OT A)
Last week, we could observe something very interesting in our readings of the Lectio Divina. We found it difficult to relate to the ongoing plots and wars of the kings of Israel. We particularly found it with unease to relate to wars and cruelty. We grasped that at the heart of these events was the betrayal of the God of the Covenant.
This Sunday (just as the past few ones) the contrast is enormous with these ‘week-day wrestling’ with our heavy texts. All of our readings can be summed up in terms of ‘being embraced by God’. ‘O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me!’ (entrance antihpon). ‘Draw near to your servants, and answer their prayers with unceasing kindness’ (Collect). ‘Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Buy corn without money, and eat, and at no cost, wine and milk.’ (Isaiah 55:1-3)
So let us focus on this contrast between the ‘real world of pain’ of our week-day readings (1, 2 Chronicles) and the joy of being embraced by God, and our clinging to this embracing God.
During the unfolding of the struggles of the prophets, gradually a conclusion, a kind of summary occurred to me. Actually, there is a profound connection with our age. The historical dramas are always there in the life of the faithful. History always comes upon us as crisis. The people suffer, things happen to families and individuals which they can’t prevent. And all in the midst of it God, before he comes to rescue us, asks us to return to him. That we listen to him, that we first embrace his saving words. We could see in those readings that the stake is high. If the people don’t listen, their faith, then their historical existence will be dispersed. They will disappear in the senseless karma of history.
Our age, today with the global epidemic of Covid 19 is exactly the same historical situation. It raises the same challenges to faith. First, we should repent and return to God. First, we should listen to his life-giving words. And it is these challenging moment of crisis when we should prove the most faithful. Our observance, our moral and financial support to our community is more timing than ever before.
Today’s Gospel give us a vital support. Saint Paul tells us, as an encouragement, that ‘nothing can come between us and the love of Christ. Even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted.’ Nothing can prevent us to live daily in the love of Christ. In his joy. Via his tenderness. Jesus shows us that sad news don’t turn off God’s loving embrace and sustenance. ‘When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves.’ Yet, he continually shares that embrace of love which his Father offers him. So the next moment he shares with them his food. ‘And breaking the loaves handed them to his disciples who gave them to to crowds. They all eat as much they wanted.’
Pope Francis sums up this Biblical dynamic of suffering and being lifted up as God’s response to our turn to him in faithfulness. ‘Friendship with Jesus cannot be broken. He never leaves us, even though at times it appears that eh keeps silent. When we need him, he makes himself known to us (Jer 29:14); he remains at our side wherever we go (Jos 1:9). He never breaks his covenant. He simply asks that we not abandon him: “Abide in me” (Jn 15:4). But even if we stray from him, “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim:13).’
Finally, as a visual illustration, let us contemplate our points about ‘pain in history’ and God’s never-ending embrace in the icon of the Loving Tenderness. The mystery of tenderness is beyond words. The shadow on the face of Mary is the shadow of his son’s coming suffering. Symbolically, the Mother of All is worried about our present sufferings. Yet, we can see God’s loving, over-arching embrace to console His mother, and us. When human and divine love are united (our turn to God in faith and love), it is a powerful defence against all the odds of history and personal life. God’s joy, God’s loving embrace to be extended to others by us can never be broken. In our Eucharist, let us rejoice over this fact.
Pope Francis’ letter to young peple is a timely read. It speaks to all ages. On the one hand, it helps us to rejuvenate our love for the Gospels and the Kingdom of God. For there is ‘something’, a part of our soul, which is never aging. The Holy Spirit creates a ‘spark’ in us, as part of his presence, and stays with us. While listening to what the Pope says, we are brought back to this first love. We can even sense, how Francis is re-living those moments of youthful passion for Christ, now, through the lens of his wisdom.
There is a second reason as to why this is a timely reading. Psychology and common experience knows that fear and anxiety causes aging. The skin, the face, but most importantly, our internal organs, our whole body grews older under the years of stress.
Covid 19 has been an immense pressure on all of us. That’s why we need to lift up our souls. The experience of daily joy in the Holy Spirit is our ‘anti-aging of the soul.’ Cherishing and bringing surface to the ‘spark’ of the Holy Spirit will give fresh strength to our love.
In illustration of this ‘spark’, I found a beautiful detail in an icon of Saint Mark. The cover of the Gospel shows the rays of Christ teaching in our soul. These are the rays of joy and love, and charity.
There is an added meaning to this spark. This is how Pope Francis urges us to valuate and revaluate the present moment. Let the moments of our friendship, here and now shine in our lives, for ourselves (rejuvenation) and for others (charity).
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..