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 of fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., a Friar Preacher (Dominican), interspersed with art and some of his photographs.
Three things happen to Abraham in today’s First Reading. Firstly, God chooses him, and makes a covenant with him. We might say that God gives Abraham his word. But, the tendency is to think of a covenant as just a contract. After all, when we make a contract we give someone our word, we promise to fulfill a certain obligation in return for a certain remuneration. But contracts usually (and ought to) exchange just property, goods, and services, not people. Rather, what God exchanges with Abraham is a covenant. It is something personal and relational. A covenant is an exchange of love between people. And this covenant that God made with Abraham and his people is extended to all humanity through the gift of baptism. In baptism, God gives us his Word, Jesus Christ and pours his Spirit of love into our hearts. Through baptism, we become one with Christ and share in his Sonship; a family bond, a covenant and exchange of love is created between God our Father and each of us.
Two other things that happen to Abraham in today’s reading points towards baptism. Abraham is given a new name by God. The gift of a name is a sign of a new state of life or vocation. Abram had been called by God to be the father of his people, and because he had entered into a covenant with God, he was given a new name, a family name, you might say, to indicate this. So, too, when we are baptised (or sometimes, at Confirmation), we receive a new name as a sign of our new birth and calling as God’s children. Our Christian name is a mark of our covenant with God.
Thirdly, Abraham is given a royal dignity and the promise of land, a kingdom. So, too, at our baptism we were anointed just as the kings of Israel were anointed; indeed, just as Christ, the Anointed One was anointed. This is a reminder that because we share in Christ’s kingship through our baptismal covenant with God, we are meant to reign with Christ in heaven, to “inherit the kingdom prepared for [us] from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34).
Hence, Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “If any one keeps my word, he will never see death” (Jn 8:51). For any one who is baptised into Christ, the living Word, and remains in the Word; any one who keeps Christ’s sanctifying grace in his soul, will never see death but will have eternal life. This grace, which can be lost through mortal sin – deadly sin – is restored to us through the gift of the sacrament of reconciliation. In confession, there is once more this covenantal exchange between us and God’s living Word. He speaks his re-creating Word of mercy and healing, his Spirit of love restores us to grace, renewing our covenant with God. And God’s Word is given to us again, coming to dwell in our soul, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Heaven is restored to our souls. But even if we had not broken our covenant with God through mortal sin, we are still being strengthened with God’s grace in this sacrament, healed by his love from the wounds that every little sin inflicts on us, and we’re being embraced by Christ.
So, tonight, I invite you again to come to the Reconciliation Service, beginning at 8pm, to sunbathe in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar, and to renew our covenant with God. As Pope Francis reminds us: “Never tire of asking forgiveness, because [God] never tires of forgiving us”.
On this day in 1858, 155 years ago, a poor girl living in a town at the foot of the Pyrenees in the south of France first saw a most beautiful lady. She held a golden rosary and had golden roses on her feet, and she appeared to Bernadette Soubirous another seventeen times. On 25 March 1858, the lady announced who she was: “I am the Immaculate Conception”.
With Our Lady’s immaculate conception, God was bringing about a new creation which was even more glorious than the first, as told in Genesis. As God separated the waters in the first creation and brought forth life, so, in his new creation of our redemption in Jesus Christ, God brings about eternal life and healing from the living waters of baptism. The miraculous spring at Lourdes, which Our Lady revealed to St Bernadette on 25 February 1858, points to this new life of grace that began with Our Lady’s immaculate conception, and that is ours through baptism. The waters of Lourdes, then, are a reminder of our baptism in Christ, which heals us of the wounds of sin, and takes away its sickness.
Moreover, the living waters of Lourdes, flowing from the Rock of Massabielle, is also an image of the Holy Spirit. Our Lady calls St Bernadette to drink the waters and wash with it. So, our baptism is not just a washing away of sin, but an indwelling of the Spirit. We drink the living waters of the Spirit, so that God comes to live in us, to heal and transform us with his sanctifying grace, and to strengthen us in sorrow, and in times of physical sickness and suffering. So, too, many have gone to Lourdes, and drunk from Our Lady’s spring, and received healing in spirit and in soul, and sometimes, also, miraculous healings of the body.
Today’s Gospel recounts how people flocked to Christ for healing, and the Lord acted through material things, such as the fringe of his garment. It is still the same today. Every year, over 6 million people flock to Christ, present and active at Lourdes, for healing. And the Lord acts through material things like the waters of Lourdes, but also through the very act of going on pilgrimage, an act of prayer and penance. For this is what Our Lady desired. She told St Bernadette “Penance! Penance! Penance!” and she asked for a chapel to be build in Lourdes so that people could go there in procession and pray.
So, in this Year of Faith, we Dominicans are going to Lourdes on pilgrimage, choosing to celebrate the feast of our founder St Dominic, in that holy shrine. We go with the sick of our parishes, bringing them to Christ, as the people of today’s Gospel did. And we invite you to join us; to go there in prayer and penance, as Our Lady of Lourdes desires. Through the immaculate Virgin’s intercession, Lourdes has become a truly unique place, a sign of the new creation in Christ, a place of baptismal joy and of tangible grace, where the divine is experienced with an intensity unlike any other place I’ve known.
As our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, said: “the primary purpose of the shrine at Lourdes is to be a place of encounter with God in prayer and a place of service to our brothers and sisters, notably through the welcome given to the sick, the poor and all who suffer. In this place, Mary comes to us as a mother, always open to the needs of her children… Let us allow ourselves to be touched by her gaze, which tells us that we are all loved by God and never abandoned by him!”
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For more information about the English Dominican Pilgrimage to Lourdes from 5-9 August 2013, contact <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Those of us with scientific minds will want to inquire: how does water just instantly change into wine? Philosophers and sceptics among us might ask: did this miracle actually happen? We could debate at length over this – as many scholars and thinkers have – but, then, I’m neither a philosopher nor a scientist, so I shan’t! Besides, we’d be missing the Evangelist’s point. St John is a brilliant theologian, deeply familiar with the Old Testament, and his concern is to ask: what is God doing here? Unlike the scientist, the theologian searches for meaning and purpose in things and events; his question is why. And St John calls this incident at Cana “the first of [Jesus’] signs”, so we also need to ask: what does the sign point to?
Traditionally, the feast of the Epiphany on the 6th of January celebrated in one feast three manifestations of God’s presence among Mankind: firstly, the wise men are led to the Christ Child in Bethlehem; secondly, Christ is baptised in the Jordan and God confirms that this is his beloved Son; and thirdly, Christ performs the first of his signs at Cana, changing water into wine. Nowadays these three epiphanies have been spaced out over three weeks, but each of them says something about God’s presence and activity in the world.
In the first case, God leads the wise men, representing all the nations of the world, to Christ; they follow a star to Bethlehem. This means that God shines the light of salvation on all humanity. It is no longer just the privileged people of Israel, but all people from all nations who are now invited to Bethlehem, to the place where the Lord feeds us with himself, the Bread of Life. Hence, the Church is catholic – all-embracing and universal – and all who accept her embrace are called the People of God. The Lord’s baptism then shows us, through Christ’s own example, how we accept the embrace of the Church and become members of Christ’s Body. Hence, through baptism, we are not just God’s People but become Sons and Daughters of God. We share in Christ’s life, and, so, we are caught up in the embrace of the Holy Trinity. But this isn’t close enough. Today’s epiphany at Cana takes us one step further, into an even deeper intimacy with God – the intimacy and union of marriage.
On the first day of Christmas, the 25th of December, we celebrated Jesus’ birthday, and since then, throughout Christmastide, which lasts until today, the Church’s Liturgy has been meditating upon, and slowly disclosing to all, who it is that was born in Bethlehem and what his birth means for Mankind? In the Middle Ages this wonderment was dramatized – Before the Mass of Christmas day, clerics dressed as midwives asked: “Whom do you seek in the crib, shepherds, tell us?” And the shepherds replied: “The Saviour, Christ, the Lord, the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, as the angel said”. And so, on the first day of Christmas, our true love, that is, God, gave to us, a baby; the Saviour, Christ, the Lord.
On Christmas day, we marvelled at this gift, the Word made flesh. And the Liturgy focussed on the wonder of Jesus Christ being born in time and space, born with a mortal human nature like ours, born of a woman. The Liturgy lingered over this beautiful human relationship of Mother and Child on the feast of Mary, Mother of God. But it never forgot the significance of Christ’s birth for humanity, that through him, our true love gave to us the gift of divine life. So, one of the antiphons for that feast says: “O wonderful exchange! The Creator of human nature took on a human body and was born of the Virgin. He became man without having a human father and has bestowed on us his divine nature”.
But every child, rightly, naturally, has a father and a mother. So, on the feast of the Holy Family, our perspective widens from looking at just the Mother and Child to consider, who, really, is this Child’s father. The Gospel stresses that it’s not St Joseph. Because although in the Gospel of St Luke, Mary says “your father [i.e., Joseph] and I have been looking for you” (Lk 2:48), the boy Jesus points quite clearly to God as his Father. Hence, in Spain the name José is typically nick-named Pepe, which comes from ‘padre putativo’: the ‘putative father’, or, we might say, foster-father. For that is who St Joseph is to Jesus. So, on the feast of the Holy Family, the Child Jesus claims God as his Father. But, so far, it’s just a one-sided claim.
Nevertheless, beginning with the Epiphany when wise men arrived from the East to worship the Christ Child, the Liturgy presents a series of signs that back up Jesus’ claim to divinity. Hence the past week has seen one Gospel account after another pointing to Old Testament manifestations of God in the work of Christ – he heals, walks on water, and feeds the hungry in the wilderness. And this series of epiphanies culminates today with the Baptism of Christ. We have, in fact, a theophany – a revelation to Mankind of God’s own self. For Jesus’ claim of divine Sonship is confirmed by the Father’s voice from heaven and by the descent of the Holy Spirit: “This is my beloved Son”. And so, Father, Son and Spirit – God the Most Holy Trinity – is revealed to us all.
Whereas at the beginning of Christmastide we marked the birth of Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, in time and space as true Man, so now, at the end of Christmastide, we celebrate the revelation that Jesus Christ is also true God. Thus, he is eternally Son, eternally begotten in love of the Father, and of the same divine ‘substance’ as God his Father. And it is because Jesus Christ is true God and true Man that he can share his divinity with us. Hence, during the Mass when I prepare the chalice and mix a little water with the wine, this prayer is given to the priest to say: “May we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”.
But how do we come to share in Christ’s divinity? How does that wonderful exchange of God becoming Man so that Man can become God take place? It takes place in a way suited to our human nature, through visible material tangible signs. Notice that the Holy Spirit takes bodily form, “as a dove”. So, too, in the sacraments, God can be said to take bodily form, and he is present and active, objectively giving us his grace, through the visible material tangible signs of water, oil, bread, wine.
The Samaritan leper was regarded by the Jewish people as doubly unclean, and so, he was twice excluded from Jewish society and from the Temple.
But the Samaritans regarded themselves as the faithful remnant, the true Israel descended from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, with priests from the line of Aaron and Levi. Seen from this perspective, Jesus’ ministry without discrimination among the Samaritans is a sign of the Messiah gathering the tribes of Israel back into unity, reconciling them in himself. The Samaritan recognizes this reconciling work of Christ, healing the division, exclusion and separation of God’s people, and he manifests this acknowledgement of who Jesus is, and of what he is doing, by thanking him. Thus he shows himself to be truly representative of the faithful remnant of Israel, having faith in Jesus as the Christ who is healing and making well God’s people, Israel.
But, seen from the Jewish perspective, Jesus’ ministry to the excluded foreigner is an extension of God’s mercy and healing to all peoples, to include all nations, all humanity. And this is where St Paul’s letter to Titus comes in. God, in his mercy, has seen the need of all humanity for his healing and saving grace. For because of sin, humanity was, like the Samaritan leper, doubly excluded. Firstly, on account of our human nature which limits us, so that we don’t naturally have access to heaven and eternal life. Secondly, on account of the leprosy of sin, an illness and suffering which further alienates us from God.
But because God is love, because he is merciful and good, he reaches out to profoundly heal us, even though we do not deserve it; God draws us to himself. So, in Jesus Christ, God comes to us and gives us “grace upon grace”. Because by his Cross, Jesus reconciles sinful humanity to the Father. And, then, through the gift of his Spirit, we are elevated beyond our limited human nature to a new life in Christ, so that we can, at last, share in the divine life of the Trinity. As St Paul puts it, we are “justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life”.
The way in which we receive these double graces of Christ is through baptism, which St Paul calls “the washing of regeneration and renewal”. And baptism, as the Catechism says, “is ‘the sacrament of faith’ (CCC 1236). So, faith, coming through baptism, has made us well. And just as the faith of the Samaritan leads him to thank the Lord, so, too, Baptism, the sacrament of faith, leads us to this Eucharist, to thanksgiving. Like the Samaritan, we acknowledge Jesus as our Saviour, and we recognize the graces he has given us in baptism. And so, with faith, we come and fall at his feet and thank him.
Today we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral church of Rome. The church was built by the Emperor Constantine, completed in 324, and is in an area of Rome near the Colosseum called the Lateran, hence it is commonly called the Lateran Basilica. Because the cathedra, the teaching seat of the bishop of Rome, the pope, is kept inside the basilica, it is regarded as the “Mother and Head of all the churches in the City and in the World”. So, we celebrate today’s feast as a sign of our unity with the Holy Father, and our love for him. We pray that he might exercise his infallible teaching office with courage and compassion so as to draw all people to Christ, who alone is the way, the truth and the life.
The official name of the Lateran basilica is the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist at the Lateran. In this name we note the spiritual significance of today’s feast and of any church building. For the church building is a symbol of Christ our Saviour into whom we are incorporated through baptism, and who is made known to us through the evangelists. For through the living water which flows from the side of the Temple, that is, from Christ’s pierced side on the Cross, we are washed of our sins, healed and saved by grace, and raised to a new life with Christ, as members of his Body, the Church. So, the Catechism says that “churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ” (CCC 1180).
Hence, in recalling the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, and thus, of all churches, we recall that each one of us, as Christians, were dedicated to God at our baptism; we became living temples of his Holy Spirit, and became spiritual stones that make up Christ’s holy Church. Every time we enter a church building, and bless ourselves with holy water, we remind ourselves of this: through baptism, we are incorporated into Christ’s Body, and have communion with him. All of us have received this grace through and in the Church, for we are never saved apart from Christ’s holy Church. As St Cyprian said in the 3rd century: “You cannot have God as your Father if you do not have the Church as your Mother”. So, in celebrating today’s feast, we also give God thanks for the gift of Holy Mother Church, that through her sacraments and her preaching of the Gospel, all people may come to a knowledge and love of the Most Holy Saviour.
But perhaps in thinking of the Church, we see also her institutional shortcomings and the sins of her leaders, and we wonder if Christ will cleanse the temple of his Church. These words from the 6th-century saint Caesarius of Arles, which are read at Matins, should give us pause for thought: “Whenever we come to church, we must prepare our hearts to be as beautiful as we expect this church to be. Do you wish to find this basilica immaculately clean? Then do not soil your soul with the filth of sins. Do you wish this basilica to be full of light? God too wishes that your soul be not in darkness, but that the light of good works shine in us” so that the world may see our charity and give glory to our Father in heaven.
Jesus reveals the kind of Christ he is: one who “must suffer many things”, and in every age and every place, those who are called Christians must follow him in this, in the hope of being raised with Christ.
Today we recall sixteen Christians who followed the king of martyrs to the Cross in Japan. These sixteen, both ordained and lay, are predominantly Dominican saints, but the saint I want to remember especially is one Lawrence Ruiz, the first Filipino martyr after whom I have taken my religious name.
Lorenzo was born in Manila, the Philippines, and he was educated by the Dominicans and hired by them as a scribe. He was married with children, was a member of the Rosary Confraternity, and sacristan at the Dominican church - a church you can still visit - in Binondo, a suburb of Manila.
In 1636, he was accused of being involved in a crime, and if he was found guilty, he would have been killed. Lorenzo feared that the Spanish authorities would be prejudiced against him since he was born of Chinese and Filipino parents, and so he fled to the Dominicans for help. They put him on a ship with Dominican missionaries so that he could escape the Philippines. Lorenzo thought they were headed for Macao, but instead the missionaries were bound for Nagasaki to help the fiercely persecuted Christians of Japan.
Lorenzo, then, was in the wrong place at the wrong time; he had hoped to escape death, but within days of arriving in Japan he was arrested, and 14 months later he died from terrible torture on 29th September 1637. But “for everything there is a season and a time”, and in God’s Providence, this was Lorenzo’s time, and so, he was given the grace to embrace his death at Nagasaki. But there was a crucial difference between the death that awaited him in Manila, and what he endured in Japan.
NB: Names have been changed for the sake of the privacy of the family
Three things happen to Abraham in today’s First Reading. Firstly, God chooses him, and makes a covenant with him. The tendency is to think of a covenant as a contract, but contracts usually exchange property, goods, and services, not people. But what we have here is something personal and relational. For a covenant is an exchange of love between people. Marriage is a covenant, and so too is baptism, which is an exchange of love between God and his child. God says to us, the spiritual children of Abraham, that he will be our God; he gives himself to us. In exchange, we give ourselves to him in love, and so, we create a family bond with God. Relationship, love, and faith or trust, are all hallmarks of any family. Just as you, Laura and Mike, will help Rose to grow in your family, to form relationships with her grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and to increase in love and trust, so, too, you will need to help Rose to grow in love for God, introduce her to him through your own example, so that she too may have faith and trust in him; so that she will have a living relationship with him.
Secondly, Abraham is given a new name by God. The gift of a name is a sign of a new state of life or vocation. Abram had been called by God to be the father of his people, and because he entered into a covenant with God, he was given a new name, a family name, you might say, to indicate this. So, too, Rose Elizabeth has been given names – family names, of course, but also names drawn from the wider family of the Church, from the saints. For, in baptism, she will share the universal Christian calling, which is to become a saint through openness to God’s grace. In particular, I am delighted that she is called Rose, which is the name of the first saint of the Americas, the Dominican St Rose of Lima.
Finally, Abraham is given a royal dignity and the promise of land, a kingdom. So, too, Rose will be anointed just as the kings of Israel were anointed, just as Christ, the Anointed One was. And so, she will become another Christ, an anointed one, who shares in Christ’s royal, prophetic, and priestly dignity. But, moreover, through baptism, Rose will be adopted into God’s own family. So, she will have the dignity of a child of God, a divine dignity, as God enters into a covenant with her, and gives himself to her entirely so that, through grace, the Holy Trinity dwells within her soul, making her a temple of God’s holy presence, filled with his love. And this is the promise that he makes to her today. That she will inherit, not just any kingdom, but the kingdom of God. She will inherit eternal life with God.
This is the greatest gift anyone can receive because union with God is the only thing that will satisfy the longings of the human heart. By bringing Rose here today, you, Laura and Mike, who have already co-operated with God in giving her the precious gift of life, are also rightly thinking of her deepest happiness, and so, labouring with God to plant the seed of eternal life. May what God has begun this day be brought to perfection through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the working of all his saints – by which I mean not just those in heaven, but also us in the Church who all share in God’s covenant of love.
Ezekiel’s vision of a restored Temple is a promise that God will restore the fortunes of Israel, that God will be with his people. And God has fulfilled his promise in Christ. Because Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and as we hear in the Gospels, Jesus is the Temple because it is through him that God encounters his people, and God dwells in him. Indeed, he is God in the flesh. So, all that the Temple stands for finds its perfection in Christ.
When Christ hanging on the Cross was pierced with a lance, blood and water flowed from his side (cf John 19:34), and these are taken to be symbols of baptism and the Eucharist. The waters that flow from the right side of the Temple in Ezekiel thus stand for the waters of baptism into which we Christians are immersed. The river teems with life, and brings life for “everything will live where the river goes”. This is a beautiful image of baptism because it is through the waters of baptism that we receive the grace that leads to eternal life. Ezekiel’s river is full of fish of “very many kinds”, just as people from all over the world are preparing now to be baptized at Easter, and receive life from the Church’s font. So, it is the baptized, us, who are like the fish swimming in this river of life. For this reason, the early Church referred to the baptismal font as the piscina, the fish pond. The river brings life so that all kinds of fertile trees will grow. This is an evocation of Eden, and likewise, baptism restores humanity to Paradise, to the innocence of Eden when humanity was in friendship with God.