April 14, 2014

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HOMILY for Mon in Holy Week

Isa 42:1-7; Ps 26; Jn 12:1-11


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.

April 13, 2014

HOMILY for Palm Sunday

Mt 21:1-11; Isa 50:4-7; Ps 21; Phil 2:6-11; Mat 26:14–27:66

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”! 

 

April 9, 2014

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HOMILY for Wed in Week 5 of Lent

Dan 3:14-20. 24f. 28; Dan 3:52-56; John 8:31-42

We can all think of ways in which knowing the truth about some situation sets us free. Think, for example, of the Oscar Pistorius trial: people, and especially the parents of the dead woman want to know the truth about their daughter’s fate. The truth doesn’t raise the dead but it does bring some closure, and so, some relief; a kind of freedom. A similar phenomenon is observed in the hunt for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane. The relatives of the missing are bound up by uncertainty, tormented by a lack of knowledge of what happened to their loved ones. Finding the truth, again, wouldn’t end the grief, but it does bring a certain freedom to move on with one’s life. So, it seems right to say “the truth will set you free”. 

And this is what I thought Jesus had said in John’s Gospel. But on closer examination, he says: “The truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). Because Jesus isn’t talking about a psychological state, nor is he making a political point, as the Jews seemed to have thought. Rather, Jesus is saying that the Truth transforms us and does something to our very being; Truth changes us. In John’s Gospel, we know that Jesus is the Truth, so we’re being told that Jesus is going to transform us. The all-creative Word of God will re-create us, make something new of us: we will be “made free”. 

Now, it’s often said that what this means is that Jesus will make us free by causing us to choose what is good and true so that the more our acts conform to these, the more free we become; it’s a kind of moral freedom. But, again, I think this implies more a being set free from an old way of living, and admittedly, the reference to slavery to sin does lend itself to such an interpretation. But I want to explore something more existential, more fundamental, and perhaps, more mystical. 

Who is it who is fundamentally Free? God. Only God is so free that he could create things. Only God is so free that he can become Man, and then undergo suffering on the Cross. Only God is so free that he can be Love, and even be sin, taking on our sins in Christ’s flesh. All these paradoxes are signs of God’s utter freedom. God is Free. So, when Jesus says the Truth will make us free, I wonder if this is a reference to our divinization. For Jesus Christ will make us, re-create us in his grace, so that we are one with God. Elsewhere, the language is of becoming sons of God in the Son of God. Hence, Jesus also says in today’s Gospel: “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”(Jn 8:36). That is to say, if the Son makes you God, you will be God indeed. It sounds almost scandalous, but then, this is what grace does: Through Jesus God divinizes Man. 

And an image of this work of divinization is found in the First Reading. The furnace is made seven times hotter, that is perfectly hot. Fire stands for love, and perfect Love is God. So, Mankind, represented by the three young men, are placed in the furnace of divine Love, that is immersed and heated by God’s grace, so that we are purified and perfected and made like the fourth man who is “like a son of the gods”(Dan 3:25). It is Christ, of course, and so, divine grace proves us in the furnace of God’s Love until we become like the Son, made sons of God. Thus the Truth makes us Free. 

What does this fiery furnace of divine Love look like? It is the Cross. During Passiontide, we are focussed on the Cross, and reminded, therefore, that every disciple is called to take up the Cross of sacrificial love, and so, follow Jesus into new life, even the divine life of God himself.

April 8, 2014

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HOMILY for Tue in Week 5 of Lent

Numbers 21:4-9; Ps 101; John 8:21-30

The serpent had tempted Adam and Eve to doubt God’s goodness and wisdom, and so, led to Man’s downfall. Refusing to depend on God, Man is cast out of the Garden and has to learn to fend for himself in the wilderness. But God goes in search of them, sending Moses to lead them out of the wilderness and back into a Land, a garden flowing with milk and honey. But in the wilderness Israel has to learn again to trust in God and his goodness and Providence. Adam and Eve had failed to do this when they bit into the fruit at the serpent’s bidding. So, now, when Israel fails again to trust God and they grumble against him, they feel the bite of their sin and unbelief. And this bite is fittingly administered by serpents, the very creature that first tempted Mankind into sin. 

This is fitting because it reminds us that sin carries in itself our own punishment. For sin causes the separation of ourselves from God’s friendship, and brings a kind of disorder to one’s emotional life and one’s use of reason so that we find it hard to think clearly and rationally and to choose to do what we reason to be good and true. So, the disordered struggle to live the good life within ourselves and with others is the punishment of sin; we feel the fiery serpent’s bite which leads, ultimately, to death. Hence St Thomas says, we can “call sin punishment by reason of what sin causes, as Augustine says that a disordered soul is its own punishment”. 

Notice that it is not so much that God punishes the sinner, but rather that our freely-chosen sinful acts, which reject the Creator’s wisdom and goodness, cause a state of disorder and moral confusion in Man. Hence, sinful acts are punitive because they deprive us of the harmony and peace and order for which we long. Thus we remain outside the Garden and in the wilderness. So, if God were to really want to punish us, he would leave us unrepentant, would abandon us to our sinful ways, and leave us without any help or guidance, nor call us to repentance. This state of being left to remain in unrepented sin, to “die in your sins” (Jn 8:24) as Jesus says today, is what Scripture refers to as “the wrath of God”. 

So, when the people of Israel call for God not to be angry, they are calling for him to save them from the bite of sin and its poison. Thus, God’s mercy towards Israel is shown when he moves them by his grace to repent, and when he provides a remedy for their sin, an antidote. He calls them to look at the serpent, which is to say, to recognize their sins so as to repent of them. And as God once provided the solution for Israel and had mercy on them, so God has now provided for all of humanity. Jesus is the one and only Solution to humanity’s fundamental problem of sin.

Thus we need to look to him and, as he says to the Jews, believe that “I am He” (Jn 8:24). For we must learn what Adam and Eve and the grumbling Israelites failed to learn, namely to trust in God’s goodness, to believe that he is faithful to his Word, and provides the Solution. 

So, when Good Friday comes and Christ is lifted up, let us look with faith at the antidote. In the Crucified One we see the destruction and violence wrought by sin, we see how Mankind is disfigured, beaten up, left dying because of sin. For thus you and I had been punished by our own sins. But at the same time we see too, on the Cross, our God of mercy and love who comes for our sake and for our salvation to bear the punishment of all Man’s sins – our sins – in his own body. Thus the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world.

His Body, risen and glorified, defeating sin and death, thus becomes the medicine for our souls. In the Eucharist we come with faith to receive this Body, the true fruit of the Cross, the Tree of Life. We doubt no longer but taste and see that the Lord is good. In faith we receive the fruit of Mary’s womb, who saves us from the effects of that poisonous fruit of the Tree that Eve had eaten in Eden. And thus, we are restored to Paradise, brought out of the wilderness into the heavenly Promised Land.

 

April 6, 2014

HOMILY for the 5th Sunday of Lent (A)

Eze 37:12-14; Ps 129; Rom 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

Looking out onto our Spring garden behind this chapel, we are reminded that water and light are vital for life. And as this is true of nature, so it is true too of super-nature, of the human soul; for our full human flourishing in body and soul, we need not just material things but spiritual gifts that only God can give. Hence, the Gospels we’ve heard over these three Sundays have spoken of water, light, and life. For as in Spring we are made aware of these elemental gifts that are necessary for those plants to flourish and grow, so in Lent (which is an old English word for Spring) we are being reminded of what humanity needs for its fullest flourishing and growth. 

We need the living waters of the Holy Spirit which wells up to eternal life (cf Jn 4:14). We need the light of Christ so we can see God (cf Jn 9:4). And both are given to Mankind in the sacrament of baptism so that we can have Life – divine life – from God the Father. So through baptism humanity becomes fully alive in the Holy Trinity. And being fully alive is what we mean by being in a state of grace. It means that we, the baptized, now live and move and have our being in the Holy Trinity. As St Paul says: “your spirits are alive because of righteousness” (Rom 8:10b).

Thus, these Gospels, with their great elemental images of water, light, and life, are read at this time of year especially for those who are preparing to receive the Easter sacraments. It stirs up in them a longing for what they will receive. But they are read for us, too, who are already baptized, to remind us of what we have received and what we still need. We need to remain alive in the Holy Spirit. Hence, Lent is our Spring-time too. Lent calls us out of the winter of our sins to receive again the water and light we need so that we can flourish and grow and become more fully alive in God. So Lent is a time of grace, inviting us to become more fully alive in God’s grace. 

Just as those who are not yet baptized will come to new life in God through baptism at Easter, so, at this time, we who are already baptized are also being called to a new life in Christ. Often our sins, our weaknesses, frailties, anxieties and addictions entomb us – we are like Lazarus. Indeed, to be in a state of sin is worse: it is to be buried alive. For although our bodies live, we are already spiritually dead if we are in a state of mortal sin. 

But Lent is our Spring, and new life springs forth, with God’s water and light, with the grace that comes from the sacrament of Confession. Lent is this graced time in which we examine our consciences, we do some Spring cleaning, and consider what needs changing and repenting in our lives. That charity and kindness and gentleness which is dead can be brought to new life; dry bones and dry hearts can be watered and revived; deeds hidden in the darkness of shame and guilt can be brought into the light of God’s forgiveness and mercy. And even if we’re not in a state of grave sin, Confession is still needful because it gives us grace which, like water and light for the plants, helps our souls to flourish and grow and become more fully alive in the Holy Spirit. 

The Press marvelled recently when Pope Francis publicly went to confession in St Peter’s Basilica before a Reconciliation Service last week. But every bishop and priest does this, just as every Catholic must. It’s a perfectly normal and healthy part of the Christian life, and the more regularly we do it, the better! It makes us more fully alive in Christ, not least because the sacrament of Confession is a participation in the grace of Jesus’ Resurrection. If we think about it, the confessional is like the empty tomb and, having been absolved and filled with the Holy Spirit in this sacrament, we come forth full of grace like the Risen Lord bursting out of the Easter tomb. St Paul put it this way in the second reading: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11). So, the sacrament of Confession anticipates and is a promise of our final Resurrection in body and soul at the end of time. 

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March 31, 2014

HOMILY for Mon in Week 4 of Lent

Isa 65:17-21; Ps 29; John 4:43-54

We say in the Creed that through the Word of God, Jesus Christ, “all things are made”. For God’s Word is ever-creative, bringing life and vigour to God’s creation. We see the creative power of God’s Word in today’s Gospel, for Jesus only has to speak the word, and the official’s child is healed. Hence, new life and healing is effective by God’s all-creative Word. 

The English Dominican theologian, fr. Herbert McCabe OP says that the sacraments are “signs of the Word of God in history”. Following St Thomas Aquinas, he says that the sacraments reveal God’s eternal Word at work in our whole human history. As such, they point to the past, when God’s creative Word was at work in the Old Testament or in the Gospels, as we hear in today’s reading. And they also point to the future, when God will “create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa 65:17) and Man will have vigorous health, as Isaiah promises. This promise comes to pass when Christ returns in glory. But the sacraments are especially, in McCabe’s words, “the ways in which the Word of God is present to us in our present era”. 

Hence, the sacraments are the means in this time, in our lives, by which God’s Word is at work, bringing about a new creation through his grace. In the sacraments, God’s Word brings healing and new life, as he did in the past. And in the sacraments, God’s Word promises a perfection that will be fulfilled at the end of time. And because God’s Word is truth, his promises can be relied upon. Therefore, the sacraments are the means by which God’s grace transforms and renews the heavens and the earth, and this new creation by God’s Word begins with you and me. 

For the grace of God given to us in the sacraments makes you and me a new creation. God’s Word is spoken into our lives through the sacraments, so that we are made anew. But not as new creatures. Rather, as McCabe says, “it is extremely important to realize that a creature with grace is not just a higher kind of creature - in the sense, for example, that a creature with intelligence is a higher kind of creature than one without. Grace does not make man a better kind of creature, it raises him beyond creaturehood, it makes him share in divinity. This share in divinity is first of all expressed by the fact that we are not merely things created, we are creatures who are on speaking terms with God”. 

So, the Word of God is spoken in us, through the sacraments, so that we can speak to God as his friends. This is the joyful thing that those who will receive the Easter sacraments long for, and it is what already belongs to us as Christians. Thus we rejoiced yesterday on Lætare Sunday, and today’s first reading calls us to rejoice again; we’re called to marvel in the new creation that God’s Word is making. As today’s Collect says, God renews the world “through mysteries beyond all telling”, that is to say, as the Latin text has it, through the sacraments. 

Indeed, through our participation in the Mass now, we believe that God’s Word is at work, renewing us and sanctifying us, and hence, the heavens and the earth too.

March 30, 2014

HOMILY for 4th Sunday of Lent (A)

1 Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Ps 23; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

“One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see” (Jn 9:25). St Paul also describes coming to faith with stark simplicity: “Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8). But we know that faith in Christ is not a once and for all event, nor is it without difficulty and struggle. Because of Jesus the man born blind could now see… But, he was also placed in conflict with those around him, including his own parents. We may have each experienced moments when following Christ puts such demands on us that it seems more like a burden or even an imposition, and faith is an inconvenience. For some, its light has faded to become just a cultural tradition, something we keep up for our parents’ sake. But the blind man remained firm despite the difficulties because he experienced the sheer goodness of what Jesus had done for him in such a direct, life-changing way.

A few years ago a BBC programme that purported to reveal the secrets of the Bible said that Christians believe that Mankind is “fundamentally bad”. But that’s just wrong. If it were true then faith would be a pointless burden. We begin with the deprivation of sin and evil, just as today’s Gospel begins with the reality of the blind man’s condition, but we don’t end there. Our human reality continues with the good news of what God does for Mankind, and what he wants to accomplishes in every human person. Seeing the blind man, Jesus goes and gives him sight, showing the gratuitous love and goodness of God. Without our asking, God freely comes to us to give us what we lack. Faith is not imposed; it is a gift as necessary and obviously desirable as water, or sight, or life itself, but which we can either reject or accept.

The blind man chooses to accept, and he stands for those who would be baptized, especially at Easter. So, Jesus, who is the One Sent, asks us to wash in the pool which (we’re told) means ‘Sent’; we’re called to be baptized in him. And as Adam was created from the clay, so Christ anoints the blind man with clay as a sign of the new creation he is working, for grace re-fashions us in the image of the new Adam; we are a new creation. But it is the first words spoken by the man born blind that hint at something more. The blind man’s words are somewhat obscured in the English translations, but in Greek it stands out. “Ego eimi” - “I am” (Jn 9:9); the divine name. For baptismal grace fashions us in the beauty of the Son of God, and so we are adopted as sons of God; we become partakers in the divine nature. God is so gracious and bountiful to humanity that he doesn’t just restore to Man what he lacks, God freely gives what Man could never attain for himself. Only God can give sight to a man born blind; only God can give eternal life and divinity to mankind. Hence Jesus says that it is through the redeemed sinner, through giving sight to the man born blind, that “the works of God might be made manifest”. 

So although we begin with the abasement of man in original sin, the Christian journey of faith continues with man’s healing by Christ, his transformation in grace, and his exaltation to the lofty inheritance of divine life itself; eternal joy and light in the Blessed Trinity. This sublime goal, this gift, is why the journey of sanctification, indeed, divinization, is worth taking despite the difficulties, struggles, and sacrifices we may have to endure. So countless saints, whose lives show the triumph of God’s grace at work in them, have shown this. 

God’s work, however, is not completed with baptism. If I were blind from birth, suddenly being given sight does not mean that I would be can actually see. The brain needs to learn to interpret what the eye takes in. So too, when we’re moved from the blindness of sin to the light of faith, we also need to learn to live as “children of light” (Eph 5:8), to grow in grace and virtue, and live as sons and daughters of God. We need to see what this means.  

And this is where the demands and hardship of faith and life in Christ comes in. As the blind man grew in understanding of what Jesus had given him with each challenge that he faced, so his relationship with Christ deepened. In fact, as the blind man preached his faith, and suffered for it, becoming increasingly isolated, and finally “cast out”, so that his life was shaped in the image of Christ Crucified. His life became closely identified to that of God’s Son. After he is cast out, Jesus finds him again, and says: “You have seen [the Son of Man], and it is he who speaks to you”(Jn 9:37). But how has the man born blind seen Jesus before? Notice that earlier on, Jesus had left before he’d gone and washed in the pool. So, how have we seen Jesus, the Son of Man?

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March 26, 2014

HOMILY for Wed in Week 3 of Lent

Deut 4:1. 5-9; Ps 147; Matt 5:17-19

The word law which comes from ‘lex’ in Latin is derived from ‘ligare’, meaning ‘to bind’. Hence, it is not surprising that laws are often regarded as constraining us. Laws seem to bind us and oblige us to do things we would not necessarily want to do otherwise. St Thomas thus notes that laws induce us to act or restrain us from acting. 

However, the Law of God, which Moses receives and hands on to Israel, is binding in another way. Its purpose is to bind God to his people, and them to their God. More specifically, through the Law, God reveals his wisdom and goodness to Man, so that by observing the Law, Man can partake in God’s wisdom and goodness. The gift of the Law to Israel, then, is a sign of a privileged closeness and intimacy between God and his people. Hence, Moses says: “What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us” (Deut 4:7). As such, the observance of the Law is a mark of belonging and being so near to the good and wise God. Through the living out of the Law, the people of Israel are being bound to God, united to his goodness and wisdom and life. 

But this binding of God to Man and of Man to God reaches its perfection in the person of Jesus Christ. As we recalled in yesterday’s great feast, the eternal Word, God himself, took human flesh in the womb of Mary. Thus, in the person of Jesus Christ the Law is fulfilled. For in him God and Man are inseparably bound together; in him is God’s goodness, wisdom, and life. But it is not enough, of course, for Jesus alone to fulfill the Law and thus be united to God. God’s desire, in coming so near to humanity, is for all peoples and not just the Jewish nation to be united to God, too. So, Mankind is no longer to be bound to God by the Law of Moses but by Jesus Christ. Through the Incarnation, God has bound himself to Man so that we, Mankind, can come near to God, and be united to him. And we do this by co-operating with the grace of Christ given to us so that we keep Jesus’ Law, the law of love. In this way we are bound more closely to God. As Jesus says: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23).

The Eucharist, of course, is the sacrament which signifies and strengthens this loving union with God. Hence we find that the text of Deuteronomy 4:7, which referred to the Law, was often used by the Church to refer to the Eucharist. “What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?”, whenever we call upon him in the Mass. For here is the sacramental presence of Christ who is the Law-made-flesh, as it were; here, God is bound to Man and Man to God in a holy communion. Thus, the Mass brings the Law to fulfillment in our lives. And this great sacrament will remain and not pass away “until all is accomplished” (Mt 5:18), that is, until we have been made holy by its grace, and are lovingly bound to God in the kingdom of heaven.

March 24, 2014

HOMILY for Mon in Week 3 of Lent

2 Kings 5:1-15; Ps 41; Lk 4:24-30

At last night’s Student Mass, we celebrated the first of three Scrutinies for the two women, called the Elect, who will be baptized during this year’s Easter Vigil. On that night, through the simple act of washing with water, they shall receive what Naaman’s healing anticipates: they will be healed from the leprosy of sin, and become newborn children of God. 

In preparation for this, the Church calls them to undergo these solemn rites of Scrutiny. But it is not the Church that scrutinizes them, but rather, the Elect themselves search their hearts with the help of the Holy Spirit. As the liturgical books explain, these rites of “self-searching… are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong and good”. In this way, the Elect bring to light – Christ’s light – the truth of who they are so that God’s grace can heal what is broken, and perfect what is good. 

All of us, in fact, can benefit during Lent from this kind of self-searching. Hence, the Church invites us every Lent to scrutinize our lives and examine our consciences; to bring ourselves to stand in Christ’s light. With his help, we scrutinize our lives and and examine “the areas of our lives where we are tempted, or seriously sin”; how we may have rejected God’s grace. For our sins reveal to us what we truly desire, what is wounded in our lives, and thus, what needs healing. Our sins, as such, have a ‘prophetic’ role, we might say, because they speak the truth about who we really are, and what we really want and love as sinners. And this truth, hard though it is to hear, is necessary to uncover and face up to if we’re to be healed by God’s grace. 

So, in the Gospel, Jesus speaks the truth, the plain facts, about the people of Israel, and how they had behaved in the past. He uncovers the sins of Israel to the people of Nazareth. But they react so badly to the facts! They just cannot deal with the truth, and so, they refuse to hear it but seek to drive Jesus out and even kill him; they want to kill Truth. Let it not be so with us. 

The rites of Scrutiny and the season of Lent thus invite all of us to prepare for Easter by examining our consciences, looking honestly at our sins and our choices in life, and then seeking the courage and grace to change and to grow in virtue. Therefore, let us pray again, as we did last night, “that the Holy Spirit, who searches every heart, may help [us] to overcome [our] weakness through his power”. 

March 21, 2014

HOMILY for Fri in Week 2 of Lent

Gen 37:3-4. 12-13. 17-28; Ps 104; Mt 21:33-43. 45f.

It’s sometimes said that God draws straight with crooked lines. But this suggests that God directly wills evil whereas in fact God doesn’t desire crookedness or will evil as such. Rather, as St Thomas says, “God allows evils to happen in order to bring about a greater good”. God draws straight out of our crooked lines; it is he who straightens what we make crooked; God’s grace actualizes the fullest potential for the good from Man’s evil acts which are lacking in good. 

Hence, although Joseph’s brothers deal with him cruelly and sinfully, God, in his Providence, turns the wicked act of the brothers to a greater good. For as the story unfolds, Joseph would eventually become the instrument of salvation for God’s people. Despite being falsely accused and imprisoned, Joseph remains faithful to God and steadfast in hope. Thus, God is able to use Joseph to save his father, Jacob, and his brothers from starvation when the famine comes. We thus see God drawing straight out of the crooked ways of the brothers. 

The figure of Joseph, and his role as a kind of saviour for Israel anticipates the person of Christ, who is also falsely accused and enters into the pit of death, but who rises from it to be our Saviour. For all humanity, who are Christ’s brothers and sisters, are saved from the starvation and death that is sin through the faithfulness and obedience of Jesus Christ. In the saving work of Christ we see most clearly the mystery of God’s Providence and goodness at work, bringing a greater good, indeed, the greatest good, from our evil. As the Exsultet puts it on Easter night: “O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”

We are sometimes left wondering and speechless in the face of evil done and suffered. The patriarch Joseph, we note in today’s reading, is silent as his brothers’ crooked ways are inflicted on him. And yet, Joseph’s life reminds us that God is working out his good purposes, drawing straight out of the crooked. Moreover, as the Cross shows us, from which our Lord hangs in silence too, God will vindicate the just. For God’s grace, we believe, is at work to bring a greater good out of the evil that Man does and endures. Hence the 14th-century English mystic, Julian of Norwich said: “Grace transforms our failings full of dread into abundant, endless comfort… our failings full of shame into a noble, glorious rising… our dying full of sorrow into holy, blissful life”. 

So, let us imitate the faith and steadfast hope of Joseph, and draw strength from Christ, confident that God is at work in our world and in our lives to bring about our greatest good. Hence, we said in today’s Entrance Antiphon: “In you, O Lord, I put my trust, let me never be put to shame… for you indeed are my refuge”. 

 

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