The Dominican friar, Blessed Humbert of Romans O.P. once said "First the bow is bent in study, then the arrow is released in preaching..." These are the sermons and reflections of fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., a Friar Preacher (Dominican), illustrated with some of his photographs.
We human beings encounter the reality of the world around us, we know, through the senses; through our sight, touch, hearing, and taste. Hence in today’s Gospel Jesus invites his disciples to encounter the reality of who he is – that he is the Risen One – through the human senses. They hear him speaking to him, and he says, “See my hands and my feet”; “Handle me” (Lk 24:39); and then, he eats a piece of broiled fish. Thus, all four senses of sight, touch, hearing and taste are used to verify the reality, the truth, of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. He invites them to know that “it is I myself”, Jesus himself and not some simulacrum of him. This was how Jesus made himself known to his disciples that first Easter Sunday.
But now for us, Jesus makes himself known to us, in the way that he once did when he encountered the two disciples in Emmaus. As St Luke says: “they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of bread” (Lk 24:35). Why does Jesus choose this mode of being present to us, his disciples? Because we are on the road too. We, too, are like the Israelites who celebrated the Passover with unleavened bread, prepared for travel. We, too, are like these two disciples, on the road. For we are a pilgrim Church, a people on the road, making our way through life towards our home and destination, which is heaven. Hence, Jesus is present for us, and makes himself known to us as he once did to the disciples in Emmaus: in the breaking of bread; in the Eucharist which becomes our Bread for the journey or, as Tolkien put it, Waybread.
The Eucharist, though, is truly the Mysterium Fidei, the Mystery or Sacrament of Faith. In it, once more, the Risen Lord Jesus is encountered and not some simulacrum of him. “It is I myself”, Jesus says, which is why the Eucharist is consecrated by Christ’s Priest in the first person: “This is my Body; This is my Blood”. However, unlike the disciples in today’s Gospel, we cannot rely on our senses of sight, touch, or taste to encounter this reality. As St Thomas says, “Seeing, touching, tasting fail to discern Thee”. But rather, we rely purely on the sense of hearing, or to be more precise, we rely on faith, believing in the Word of God whom we hear speaking. So, St Thomas puts it like this: “How says trusty hearing? That shall be believed. What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do; Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true”. Hence, we believe that the Risen Lord is wholly present in the Eucharist; he makes himself known to us in the breaking of Bread because he has promised to do so. “I it is myself”. For we human beings know not just through our senses but through faith in God’s Word.
But this just seems too good to be true, sometimes. St Luke uses a rather strange and unique phrase in today’s Gospel for this. The apostles “disbelieved for joy” (Lk 24:41). So, too, when we encounter the Risen Lord in the Eucharist, we can find ourselves disbelieving for joy. Not because we doubt Christ’s Word or the salvific truth taught by his Church, but rather because the Eucharist is just such a marvel of divine love, such a daily miracle of God’s faithfulness to humanity, such a sign of divine mercy and humility, that we can’t fully grasp the depth of this great Mystery of Faith. As St John Vianney said: “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.”
What we can do, however, is to just be present here in the Mass, and worship. So, as he once did for the disciples, we ask Jesus to open our minds (cf Lk 24:45), and to make us his witnesses – evangelizers of the joy we have in knowing the risen Lord Jesus Christ through the gift of faith.
St Matthew’s Gospel is emphatic that the risen Lord Jesus first appears to women. Two women, in fact, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (Mt 1:28), “mother of James and Joseph” (Mt 27:56). The fact that there were two of them is significant because, as St Paul (echoing Jewish law) says, “any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (2 Cor 13:1). So, there must be at least two witnesses to establish a fact. However, Jewish tradition did not allow women to serve as witnesses in court. Neither were slaves, or children, or the deaf and blind, or notorious sinners admitted as witnesses.
But the Risen Lord comes to these two women, and reveals himself to them, and allows them to touch his glorified body. For as Jesus had said and shown through his ministry in Galilee, he was born for sinners; he came to heal the deaf and blind, to bring freedom to slaves, and he called children to him. In Christ God had come to reach out to the weakest and marginalized of society; those whom society and men of law and power reject, Jesus calls and embraces.
So, after his Resurrection, Christ comes again to these women who stand for all those whom official society had marginalized or held as weak and not-good-enough. And as God had reached out to them in Jesus, so now they reach out to Jesus. They “took his feet and worshipped him” as God (Mt 28:9). Hence, you and I who are sinners, who were blind and deaf because of sin have been healed by Christ’s grace and mercy shown on the Cross. And we, who are reborn in baptism are like little children, who can now approach and embrace the risen Christ “for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:14).
Let nobody, then, feel too weak or sinful or small or unworthy to reach out to Christ. Let no one be afraid. For the Risen Lord comes in search of such people – not of the proud and self-righteous – but of the humble and weak. Of those, perhaps, who feel they’ve not kept a very good Lent, or are still tempted and sinful. These are the ones the Risen Lord seeks, and he says to us, to you and to me: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:10). He comes to us today in the Eucharist, and he allows us to reach out to him, to touch him, and receive his healing mercy and grace.
And to those of us who come here to worship Jesus as God, and who have encountered the Risen Lord in these Easter sacraments, Christ gives us a command: “Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Mt 28:10). Because Jesus is for ever God and Man, so his brethren refer not just to the apostles but to all of Mankind. So the women, that is, we, are told by the Risen Lord to tell all peoples that we have encountered him. And we’re to tell them to “go to Galilee” where they will see him too. What might this mean? Galilee, as I’ve suggested, was where Jesus first ministered to the little ones, to the needy and poor and unloved of society. So, we Christians are to go out among the marginalized and poor. As St Matthew’s Gospel says we will see Christ among the least (Mt 25:40).
However, we’re also to go among those who are sinners, who are still blind and deaf to Faith and to Christ’s Word. And we’re to tell them the Gospel of salvation, to open their eyes to God’s love in Christ, so that they, our fellow sinners, can also see the Risen Lord Jesus. “There they will see me” (Mt 28:10). For where he is needed most – in the despairing and skeptical hearts of 21st-century men and women – in our modern-day Galilee, the Risen Lord will be there. He reaches out to his brothers and sisters, made so deaf by false philosophies, so blind by Rationalism, so poor by lack of Faith. But he relies on you and me to tell them the Good News that he is risen, so that they, too, can see the risen Lord, and reach out to touch him, and worship.
A few years ago, when I was a younger and even more inexperienced deacon, I was invited to a Catholic comprehensive school in Essex. And I went into a class of 16 year olds, dressed in my full 13th-century habit to take some questions. And all they wanted to ask about was sex: talk about Daniel in the lions’ den… But I survived to tell the tale! It’s fitting, then, that the image of Daniel in the lions’ den is one of the earliest Christian depictions of Resurrection hope, found on sarcophagi in Rome.
But not all the questions were about sexual matters. One boy hoped that I would do his homework for him, and so he asked me: ‘What is the relevance of the doctrine of the resurrection for today’? A good question. As I walked through the Meadows yesterday and watched everybody enjoying the sunshine, seemingly oblivious to what was happening in our little hidden chapel, this question came to mind again: what is the relevance of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection; of these three sacred days, the Triduum, we’ve been celebrating?
And here is, more or less, what I said to that boy. We begin with Christ’s Passion and Death, his suffering on the Cross. So, we think, too, of the suffering of all humanity; of the people of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Central African Republic, and so many other spots forgotten by us and the Media. As I was on my way yesterday to visit the sick of our parish, I considered, too, the pain and suffering around us and in our own lives, so much of which is unseen. Suffering is very immediate and it touches each of us at some time and in some way, directly and indirectly. Then we begin to see how very relevant the resurrection of Jesus Christ is.
For we believe that God became one of a us, a human person who suffered, died, and was buried. In Jesus Christ, our God became present to human suffering, so that when we suffer, God is there. So, ours is not a God who is distant from us, but a God who bore our sins and pains and all that belongs to our human mortality in his own body. He, the Crucified One, bore all that on the Tree (cf 1 Pt 2:24). Each generation is overwhelmed by evil, suffering and sin in our world, and we rightly ask, ‘Where is God’? But the God whom they – we – interrogate is One who we beheld taking up his Cross, struggling under its weight to Calvary, and disfigured by torture and anguish on the Cross. And so, the mystery of sin and evil suffered is given meaning even if we don’t – and I think can never fully – understand it. But it has meaning because of today, the day of Resurrection.
Easter is typically celebrated with loud music and triumphant singing, but if we pay attention to the Gregorian chants given to us by the Church, we note a different mood altogether. There is a certain ambivalence of tone; the musical mode chosen is not triumphant but still hesitant. Why? Because we still live in suffering and witness it around us every day. Nevertheless, the music and text for the Entrance chant of today’s Mass strikes a note of reassurance. “I have risen, and I am with you still, alleluia”. This assurance of Christ’s living Presence, with us in our suffering; with us in the Eucharist which is always a sacred memorial of his Passion; Christ with us still, no matter what happens to us, is the tone for Easter Sunday that the sacred Liturgy wants to teach us.
For it is Christ, risen from the tomb, who gives meaning to all that befalls us. It is his Resurrection and the promise it holds for us that gives meaning to our suffering, our death; to the Cross we carry each day; to the dying in baptism and in daily martyrdom that we endure for the sake of his Name. It is the resurrection that gives meaning to the crucifixion of humanity… in Haiti, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria, the Philippines; on our streets where the homeless lie, and in the slums where the poor scavenge for scraps in rubbish dumps, and in our homes torn apart by violence, selfishness, disharmony. And in our hearts too, pierced by the insults, humiliation, and indignity that others mete out to us. All this pain, sadness, and suffering, where Christ is present only makes sense, or has any meaning because he is the Risen One; because he is risen and is with us still.
Last night at the Chrism Mass, Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews and Edinburgh led us priests in renewing our commitment to the priestly ministry. I’d entered the cathedral, preoccupied by thoughts of preparing for the Triduum, so I had forgotten about this key aspect of the Chrism Mass. It came as a pleasant surprise especially after a beautiful and inspiring sermon from the Archbishop encouraging us by reminding us that we were given the grace of ordination to be “faithful, not successful”. So, with joy, I recalled my Ordination in September 2011, and thanked God for the grace of being called to minister as a priest of Jesus Christ.
Christ is ever faithful.
Hence, the very next day, that is, today, I was given reminders of just how joyful and beautiful the priestly vocation is.
A letter arrived from Dublin; the address incomplete but it was sufficient for it to find its way to me. And the content surprised me but moved me to tears of gratitude and joy.
The previous August I had been in Lourdes on the Dominican Pilgrimage, and I’d been to the shrine’s Reconciliation Chapel in search of a confessor. The queues were long and I waited some time. After I made my confession to the priest in charge of English-language confessors, I asked him if he could do with some more help since there were still quite a few English-speaking pilgrims waiting and I had a few hours to spare. He readily agreed, and I settled into the confessional.
Christ is ever faithful.
So, he gave me the words to minister to his beloved flock, to the wounded and lost, to those who sought consolation and healing mercy. One confession in particular opened the way for reconciliation between estranged persons, and today I received a letter explaining to me how reluctant the person who’d been to confession had been to go to Confession that day. But that person did, moved by Our Lady of Lourdes, and what happened after that confession, since that grace-filled day has brought such peace and reconciliation to a personal situation. The letter I received this afternoon recounting all this simply moved me to tears, and I thanked God for his mercy and justice.
Subsequently, this person looked for me online, only knowing my first name, that I was from Scotland, and my face. And then, on the same day, this person saw me on EWTN giving my reflection for the Annunciation.
Christ is ever faithful.
So, we can be sure that if we are faithful to him, if we’re open to his grace, he will do beautiful things. It’s just so amazing, as a priest, to be used by God in this way; to be an instrument cause of his grace.
And so, this Holy Week, this final day of Lent, I offer this testimony as a song of love to the divine Lover who calls us and keeps faith with us.
“My song is of mercy and justice; I sing to you, O Lord…” (Ps 101:1)
Let us pray for our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. May the Lord protect him and grant him length of days. Amen May the Lord be his shield and deliver him from all harm. Amen May the Lord give him happiness and peace all the days of his life. Amen
"Don’t let yourself forget that God’s grace rewards not only those who never slip, but also those who bend and fall. So sing! The song of rejoicing softens hard hearts. It makes tears of godly sorrow flow from them. Singing summons the Holy Spirit. Happy praises offered in simplicity and love lead the faithful to complete harmony, without discord. Don’t stop singing."
As any choir director or Cantor knows, Holy Week is full of music and singing. Indeed, Holy Week opens with singing. And as St Augustine says, only the Lover sings. So, yesterday, we heard the song of the children of Israel, welcoming Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. It is an image of our souls welcoming Christ with faith into our hearts. And today the song is taken up by the prophet Isaiah in today’s First Reading. For what we’ve heard is often called the first Song of the Servant. It is a poetic text in which God, the divine Lover, sings to Israel, to us.
The last time we heard this Song of the Servant was on the feast of the Lord’s Baptism. Then, Jesus was anointed by the Spirit to begin his mission as Saviour. Today, the song is heard again, and it crescendoes throughout Holy Week as Christ’s mission of saving love comes to its peak on Calvary.
As the Lord says in this love song, his Servant, Jesus, will “open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isa 42:7). And this is what Christ does for Mankind on the Cross. Our eyes are opened to see the depths of God’s love for sinners. And by his Cross and Resurrection, he has set us free. Thus, on Holy Saturday night at the Easter Vigil, our two Elect will be baptised. Through this sacrament they will be released from their captivity to Satan and sin, and will be united to God in love so that at last they may see God face to face. In a similar way, God’s grace has been at work in our lives. Through the holy season of Lent, God has been working to move us to repentance, and thus to draw us closer to him in love.
We may think we’re such great sinners, or commit the same sins many time, or we might still be afraid to go to confession. But today’s Gospel encourages us. For the greater our sins, then the greater our repentance, the more deeply we can know God’s loving mercy. As Jesus says in St Luke’s version of today’s Gospel: “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Lk 7:47). Hence, through repenting of her many sins, Mary has known the extravagance of God’s saving love for her. Thus she shows her love for Christ her Saviour in such an extravagant way. In contrast, Judas, who is unrepentant and hardened by sin, who has no need of the Saviour and so doesn’t experience God’s mercy and love, is unable to understand Mary’s gesture of love.
For only the Lover sings. God is singing to us this week. Can you hear his song, calling us to righteousness and justice (cf Isa 42:6)? Calling us to repent and so, be forgiven. If we do, then we can take up the song too, for only one who knows he’s loved and loves back can sing; only the lover sings. The repentant sinner is just such a singer. So you and I are called this Holy Week to take up the song of grace and mercy, a love duet with God.
We carry palms and process today so that we become part of the sacred drama of our salvation that plays out over this Holy Week. And this participation is vital because salvation is not just something done to us as passive spectators. Rather, the drama of salvation is played out in our daily lives. He comes again and again to us, invisibly, through grace that heals and sanctifies us; in his sacraments especially in the Eucharist; in the people we meet on the streets and in our homes and work places, especially those who suffer and are rejected and are in need. And he is with us, crucified alongside us, present in our depressions and sufferings; present in the cross that shapes all genuine and pure love. In the Passion drama of our daily lives, then, we can be sure that our Lord is with us, that our God is present in our worlds, and that our Saviour comes to us, humbly but purposefully to bring about our salvation. So let us actively participate in our salvation by giving our Lord welcome, and crying out in every moment of our lives, “Hosanna”, which means, “Lord, save us”!
God’s covenant with Abraham is the bedrock of our faith. For through the incident recounted in today’s First Reading, God takes the initiative to enter into a personal relationship with Mankind; he calls Abraham and his descendants into communion with him. And our faith is founded on this promise of “an everlasting covenant” (Gen 17:7). Thus, Abraham is called, in the Roman Canon, our “father in faith”.
In the covenant, God promises: “I will make you exceedingly fruitful” (17:6), and makes the gift of “all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession” (17:8). What this means is that communion with God brings life and flourishing. It is a promise, then, of salvation. We need to bear in mind that the word ‘salvation’ comes from the Latin salus which means health, well-being, flourishing. So, in the Old Testament, God is seen to have established a special relationship with Abraham and his descendants, with Israel, that promises to them health, success, and flourishing in this life so long as they are faithful to God and obey his Law. This, it seems, is what salvation entailed.
But Abraham’s faith shows its mettle when he’s asked to sacrifice his only son, his heir, Isaac. Thus the promise of physical health and material success is jeopardized. We need to wait until the Easter Vigil to hear this story recounted in the Liturgy but we want to keep it in mind today because what this incident shows is the depths of Abraham’s faith. He, our father in faith, shows us that faith encompasses the suffering, sacrifice and the endurance of all earthly sorrows and grief. And Abraham can do this because he believes above all that God is faithful and good, and so, will ultimately bring about life and flourishing. God will be faithful to his Word even in the face of death.
Hence, Abraham grasped that salvation is not so much about success and power in this earthly life but something deeper and more lasting, transcending even death. The covenant is not just a treaty for worldly gain, then, but something more profound, of spiritual significance and with its promise of rescue beyond the grave. So, when the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac is read on Easter night, then we see that Jesus’ resurrection is God’s final and definitive answer to Abraham’s faith in the covenant. Here is the promised salvation, perfectly realized for all Abraham’s descendants. Because, by Christ’s Resurrection, Mankind is rescued from the privation of death, and shares in the everlasting life and health of God himself. Through Christ’s Resurrection the covenant with Abraham is perfected, and the salvation promised him is fully realized. We, who are Abraham’s descendants and heirs because we share his faith in Jesus’ Resurrection, are thus also inheritors of God’s covenant, the “new and eternal covenant” signed with Christ’s blood.
It seems that Abraham already had a glimpse of all this. For all this is what his faith signifies and anticipates. Hence Jesus says: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad” (Jn 8:56). For the day Abraham saw was the day of God’s salvation, and now, in Jesus Christ, in his saving Passion and Resurrection, that day shines out clearly. So, in the coming Holy Week we will see Abraham’s faith come to fruition so that with him, our father in faith, we can also rejoice and be glad.