Sunday, June 17, 2018

CHRIST IS THE ONLY SOURCE OF TRUE FLOURISHING: a homily for the Eleventh Sunday, year B (Mark 4:26–34)

Full disclosure: I was struggling all week to decide what I should preach on and then on Saturday morning I found the sacred page blog.  I used John Bergsma's reflection on the Sunday readings to construct this Sunday's homily!

Every life, every era has its own particular trials, tribulations and challenges.About 600 years before Christ Ezekiel wrote the words of the first reading to console the Jews as their world fell apart.  The Kingdom established by David had long split in two and now only the southern part, Judah and Jerusalem, remained and that wouldn't last long.  The Jews of Northern Israel were exiles in Syria, and Babylon had already deported many Judeans.  A few years later in 587 BC, Jerusalem and the Temple would be completely destroyed.  
            It was a quite depressing time in the history of God’s people and Ezekiel gives a prophesy of hope: God has a plan and his promise to David is not forgotten. There be will growth once more.  However no dynasty had ever re-established itself having been brought down.  How could this happen?  Surely Ezekiel was mad?
            The “just one” that we heard about in the psalm is compared to a tree that flourishes, grows, and bears fruit.  It's a not uncommon image in the psalms.  Behind it is the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil in Eden, the primordial garden-temple of God.  The “just”—those who live their lives according to God’s will become like the Tree of Life.  They will bear the fruit that Adam and Eve didn’t taste, because they chose to take what had not been offered, what did not yet belong to them.  
            The “just one” is first of all Jesus Christ—the only one who is truly “just.”  He is truly the Tree of Life who bears good fruit in all seasons, eternally. There's an Irish prayer that goes "O King of the Friday, whose arms were stretched on the Cross.  O Lord who did suffer the bruises, the wounds, the loss.  We stretch ourselves beneath the shield of Thy Might.  May some fruit from the Tree of Thy Passion fall on us this night."  It is Christ who has made the Cross and all our personal crosses fruitful. Baptism and the Mass make us His Body and so we too can be the 'just one" flourishing in hard times.  The Lord offers us the means togrow spiritually strong and resilient despite life’s troubles, and bear the fruit of the Spirit and of good works.  

            Again in the Gospel we hear about trees and fruit.  The Lord tells two short parables.  In both of them, the “seed” is the Word of God, in two senses: the proclaimed Gospel is the “word of God”; and Jesus himself is the Word of God.  In the first parable, Jesus tells us that the growth of God’s kingdom is a mystery, the work of the Holy Spirit, and no more dependent on human effort than natural growth depends on us.  A gardener cannot make the seed grow he can only provide the best conditions in his power.  We are responsible for planting the seed by our words and deeds but the growth belongs to the Lord.  We cannot control God's work in our own heart let alone another's. It is the work of God and we must trust Him.
            The Lord also tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that grows into a great tree.  Again the “smallest of seeds” and the humblest is in fact Christ himself, who is both the Word of God, and the “seed of David” whom God promised by covenant oath to King David “raise up”:  "When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your seed after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom."  Isaiah prophesied that "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Jesse was David's father and an ancestor of our Lord.

            Christ is the “smallest of seeds” because he is poor, humble and lowly, despised by all: as Isaiah again said:"For he grew up before us like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Those words were fulfilled on the Cross and from the Cross our Lord says to us "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
            After His death on the Cross our Lord was literally planted, that is buried, in the ground.  He said the grain of wheat that dies bears much fruit:  "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."  The “mustard seed” of Jesus, planted in the ground in the mountain heights of Israel (Jerusalem), rose from the dead and became the Church, which grew despite persecution and grows throughout the world still.  
            In Christ, the royal Son of David, Ezekiel’s prophecy did come true but not as expected.   Christ turned defeat into victory and the Cross into a throne.  The House of David was reestablished not in Jerusalem but in Heaven, and the Kingdom of David is the Church has spread throughout the world, an international empire of Faith.
            Every life, every era has its own particular trials, tribulations and challenges.Without our Faith in Christ we are no good to anyone.  We need to rekindled our faith and care for it as we would a candle in a cave.  We need to have faith in God and His power to save us.  In this dark time when the Church seems to be failing it’s helpful to remember that times were frequently dark in the past as well. Ezekiel prophesied under the oppression of the Babylonian Empire.  Our Lord ministered under the oppression of the Roman Empire.  How many centuries were our people oppressed and persecuted here in our native land?  The Lord prefers to work through the small, the weak and the powerless: mere mustard seeds. He prefers to work in and through ordinary people in ordinary situations.  In unseen ways He makes things grow and change.  He does not die, He grows; He fills the whole earth, brings eternal life to those that seek His shade.  He is the Tree of Life and if we turn to Him He will feed us with Himself and we will live forever.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

DO THE WILL OF THE FATHER: a homily for the Tenth Sunday in year B, (Mark 3.20–35)

            What a homecoming!  Our Lord returns to Nazareth and faces two challenges. The Jewish lawyers and theologians are accusing Him of being possessed while His relatives are putting Him under pressure to conform.  In the intensely clannish climate of Israel the question is this: where does His authority come from?  In other words who is Jesus and what should we do about Him?
            In the midst of all this our Lord offers His defense: He is the strong man who has robbed the robber Satan.  He is the center of history and the source of salvation.  Anyone who does His Father's will is mother, sister, brother to Him.  It is not biology but obedience to the truth that forms the family of God.
            One would have to be totally indifferent to one's salvation or dangerously complacent not to wonder about that sin against the Holy Spirit.  What does that mean?  The sin against the Holy Spirit or the unforgiveable sin is the refusal to admit one's sin or the power and will of God to forgive it.  It is a rejection of God's mercy and forgiveness. A drowning man who resists any help or a dying man who refuses life-saving treatment cannot be saved and likewise those who refuse God's mercy remain in their sin.  It does not mean that God does not or cannot forgive but that His forgiveness is not welcome and until that changes the sin remains and the sinner cannot hope for Heaven.
            All too often we think of sin in terms of breaking rules, especially breaking Church rules.  That in part is due to the Church's practice in the past of using such penalties to enforce discipline.  Sin is not about breaking rules but about doing evil. Sin is a rejection of God's authority, His mercy and His love, and His plan for us.  It follows that any thought, word or deed that freely and consciously rejects God's plan is evil and therefore sinful.
            You will remember that our Lord says that if anyone looks lustfully at another person he or she has already committed sin in their heart.  This is because the one looking with lust has given their will to an act they know to be wrong and though there was no physical action they have turned their will to an evil end.  Each time you or I do such a thing we make it easier to do it in future until we end up so evil that we can no longer do good.  I knew a female student once who could not tell the truth even if it got her out of trouble.    
            Of course the opposite is also true. The more you choose to do good, to do the right thing, the more likely you are to choose good in future until it becomes nearly impossible to do wrong.  It is a habit, that is, a settled disposition of one's charachter. Such a habit is a virtue if it is good and a vice if it is evil.
            As I have pointed out to you before there is an objective moral order. It is Objective because it exists independently of us, Moral because it governs right and wrong and an order because it has a hierarchical structure.  We do good when we live by it and respect it and evil by ignoring it and acting contrary to it even if only in our thoughts.  This is why even seemingly small acts can be morally significant.
            For instance, Adolf Hitler did not, as far as we know, kill anyone.  Yet by his signature he gave power to Himmler and Himmler gave power to Heydrich and Heydrich thought up the 'final solution', that is, the mass murder of millions of innocent Jews.  The pen is mightier than the sword because it so often unleashes it. So even our smallest acts can bring great good or great evil and we will answer to God for the consequences of every one of them.
            The good news is that God has extended to us His mercy and forgiveness in His Son.  In Christ He has given us everything, every grace and every blessing.  It is up to us to avail of it.  He will not force Himself on us.  He will not violate our free will in even the smallest way.  He would not force the scribes and the Pharisees; He will not force us.
            More, any and every sin, no matter how dreadful or disgusting, no matter how shameful, no matter how often committed, no matter how many affected, any sin will be forgiven if it is repented and confessed.  If we cast ourselves on His mercy we will not be disappointed.  But only those sins are forgiven that are repented and confessed in this life.  We cannot confess or repent in the next.  What we hold back, what we refuse to acknowledge as sin, or if we refuse to trust in His mercy and forgiveness, then that cannot be forgiven.  What is not dipped in the water is not washed.
            Through Baptism and Confirmation He has made us one Family, one flesh with Himself.  More, He has given us a share in His own Sonship and a place on the Throne of Heaven.  In Holy Communion He offers us His Body and Blood, His own soul and Divinity as food for us.  He asks that we believe in Him, trust Him and give Him each and every in sin in the Confession. He wants to see, touch and heal each and every wound.  He will not force His love on us and neither will He force His mercy. 
            Don't let pride or false humility, weak faith or laziness, keep you out of heaven.  The more and the swifter we turn to His grace in the Sacrament of Confession the quicker and the greater will we grow in holiness.  That holiness will attract others to Christ and His mercy, especially those we love.  If you really love your loved ones you will strive to get as close to Christ as possible because only through, with and in Him can anyone be saved. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

CHOICES HAVE CONSEQUENCES: a homily on Trinity Sunday, May 27th, 2018

            Friday was a day of choice.  It is a privilege of our democratic constitutional system that we get to vote on changes to the fundamental law of the land.  Our people voted and they made a choice.  Every choice, no matter how small has consequences many of them unseen. There will be consequences to the choice our people have made whether we like those consequences or not.  
            This was not a vote about being Catholic but a vote about respecting that objective moral order about which I have spoken to you before.  Our nation has voted to reject that objective moral order.  It has chosen to remove the protection on the life of the unborn child and so to give the government a free hand in legislating for abortion. It has done so with such a majority that the same government may feel free to go further than they claimed they would go.
            One consequence of the vote will  definitely affect every one on this island but not immediately.  Within the last few weeks Minster Zappone herself announced that she was going to take action to try to stop the decline in the nation's birthrate.  This is a problem that has been there since the 1980's mind you.  The problem with our birthrate is not ours alone; it affects all advanced nations.  It is due to many reasons but the technology that has allowed it to happen is primarily that of contraception and surgical and chemical abortion. This will mean that the day will come, about twenty to thirty years from now, when there will not be enough young people in the population to support all the old people.  No one knows how this will play out because never before have we been able to observe whole nations go down this path together. We do know that such events have lead to the collapse of whole empires in the past. It happened to the Romans.  
            It's because of that prospect that there's already talk of raising the age at which people retire.  It's one of the reasons that there's so much emphasis on private pension schemes.  It is also why there's a push to bring in euthanasia.  I would've thought it was obvious that you don't save a sinking ship by poking holes in the hull and then trying to plug them.
            Friday's vote means that for those of us who are Catholic we too must make a choice.  If it wasn't obvious to you before it should be glaringly obvious now that 'Catholic Ireland' has been dead for some time.  Not just Catholic Ireland but even the capacity to reason about right and wrong seems to have left us.   We have only ourselves to blame though some may carry more blame than others.
            We are now a minority Faith on this island.  There was a time when everyone went to Mass.  Many went because they believed but some went to be seen and others so no would talk about them.  The Church was as part of Irish society as the GAA, the pubs and the national school.  There is still a certain amount of that.  It is called 'cultural Catholicism' where the Faith is not embraced but simply worn like a badge of identity, an expression of a brand of Irishness like wearing green on Patrick's day.  It is cultural Catholicism that makes an avowed atheist think that he can be a sponsor for someone's Confirmation.  
            The 'cultural Catholics' may still hang around but we will have to offer them a choice: "Take the Faith seriously or move on."  We can't afford to carry those who don't really care, who don't really believe.   I'm not talking about those who struggle with sin. We all struggle with sin.  I am talking about the superficial Catholics, sometimes called 'a la carte' or 'pick'n'mix' Catholics.  About those who can't be bothered to be one thing or the other our Lord Himself has said: "I will spit you out of my mouth." (Rev. 3.16)
            Our choice is whether we take our faith seriously or not.  It's a choice about whether we allow our Faith to touch every aspect of our lives and our behaviour or not.  There's much that must change in the Irish Church but not in the way some may want it.  We cannot go back to the 50's but we can live the Faith handed down to us from the Apostles, the Faith lived by St Anthony of Padua, Padre Pio, Mother Teresa and all the saints.  We can take the Gospel and the teachings of the Church seriously and put them into practice or we can walk away.  That is the real choice before us and it will have its own consequences.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

TO KNOW THE NATURAL LAW IS TO KNOW THE MIND OF CHRIST: a homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B.

An atheist was visiting the South Sea Islands.  While there he commiserated with a Chieftain on how Christianity had damaged his culture.  The Chieftain listened patiently and then said “You see this rock? Before the Christians came I would have killed you with it and eaten your brains.  It is because of the Christians that you are still alive.”  Christianity had taught his people not to treat strangers as enemies but as human beings  
Today there is an attempt to force religion and via religion morality into the private sphere.  But neither religion nor morality are private matters.  We cannot be Catholic only in private or only on some issues.  It is all or nothing.  While there are many areas over which Catholics can disagree with one another e.g. immigration, taxation, water charges etc., the fundamental moral teaching is not for negotiation.  But here I must make an important clarification.
The Church does not get her moral teaching from Revelation (that which has been revealed to us above all through Christ and His Apostles) but rather Revelation affirms, expands and deepens what we already know by reason.  By reason you and I know that it's wrong to take what does not belong to you, to have sex with someone to whom one is not married or to kill an innocent human being.  Just laws are based on such moral principles; that's what makes them just.  It's because we know it is wrong to steal that we have so many laws punishing burglary, shop-lifting, pick-pocketing, fraud and plagiarism.  An act is wrong not because it is against the law.  If it is against the law it ought to be so because it is wrong.  Law also functions to teach people right from wrong.  We show compassion in how we apply the law not in how we frame it.
We can know right from wrong by reason because there exists outside ourselves and our societies an Objective Moral Order.  It is Objective because it is real and not subject to our feelings or opinions. It is Moral because it governs our free actions as self-conscious and sentient beings.  It is an Order because it has a structure and a hierarchy.  This Objective Moral Order is usually called the Natural Law.  
Revelation affirms this Natural Law.  We must not confuse the Natural Law with the Laws of Nature.  The Laws of Nature are what rule the physical world and are studied through the disciplines of science: physics, chemistry and biology.  The Natural Law is what rules the moral world.  The Ten Commandments are a condensation of that Natural Law.  There is a lot more to right and wrong but most of Catholic moral teaching is an ‘unpacking’ of those Ten Commandments.  
Of course as we have just heard our Lord added another commandment that we love one another as He has loved us.  This we could not know by reason but only by Revelation.  It required revelation for us to know about the importance of forgiveness, of turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile, of imitating Christ in His humility and obedience.  This is why our Lord said that not one iota, not one little dot, of the Law would be changed and that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil, that is, complete it.
The Natural Law is known not so much by experiment (unless all of human history can be understood as an experiment) but it is perceived by reason reflecting on what it is to be human and on the experience of conscience.  Conscience is that capacity of the soul to reflect on and examine our actions, to hold them up to inspection and judge them.  Conscience is not infallible but it is a capacity that we must form and foster, educate and nurture so that it becomes ever more sensitive.  The best education and formation a conscience can get is to be informed by the Word of God in the Catholic Faith.  Indeed to listen to an educated and well-formed conscience is to place one’s ear next to the mouth of God. 
It is conscience that tells us about the demands of the Natural Law.  For instance, conscience tells us, without too many arguments or without much thought, that it is always wrong to deliberately and directly take an innocent human life.  That is why we expect a man to go to prison for killing his neighbour but not for killing his neighbour’s dog.  The fact that we are fallen of course has shaped how different societies have understood that Law.  The more civilised the society the wider the understanding of the sanctity of human life has become. Christianity has widened our understanding of ‘innocent human being’ to the utmost.  Yet there remains a constant battle against those who would narrow that understanding again, who would push us back to barbarism.   
Much of our legal tradition was based on this Natural Law but that is being dismantled and rejected.  It does not suit the intelligentsia, the social engineers and ideologues who run our world.  Where once society held up the virtues for us to emulate and extolled moral goodness now we are subjected to the idolatry of personal freedom and the monstrous worship of depravity.   This goes hand in hand with the rejection of Christ and His Church.  One cannot behave as one wishes and still hold to an objective moral order, a Natural Law, nor can one hold to Christ and His Church.  Reject the Natural Law and one necessarily rejects Christ.
There is a battle for the soul of our own nation.  That is where the matter of the Eight Amendment to our Constitution comes in.  Either we give glory to God, proclaim His Truth and uphold what He has established or we deny Him by our silence and inaction.  The Nazis and Communists came to power in various countries because the good stood by and did nothing when they had a chance to make a difference.  The moral order in our society is under revolution and we are called to action.  A soldier who sits in the trench during a battle might as well be siding with the enemy.  It is not just a matter of voting in the right way or for the right politician.  If we do not speak up and get involved in resisting the evil that is threatening our country and the lives of the most vulnerable then we risk forfeiting Heaven.  We cannot expect a welcome from God if we have stood by and allowed His children to be murdered.  

Sunday, April 29, 2018

BE GRAFTED TO CHRIST AND DRAW LIFE FROM HIM: a homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B (John 15.1-8)

My Dad spent a chunk of his working life in a foundry in Dublin. He would say about it that 'once the metal entered your blood you couldn't get it out.'  I would say the same of soil.  Before I joined the Capuchins I worked was a gardener. If you're a gardener then you might understand what I mean.  It never leaves you.  It's more than fresh air and growing things.
I learned to dislike weeds.  Not all weeds are plants growing where they're not wanted. Some weeds entangle, throttle and kill the living things around them.  They grow only for their own benefit and to the loss of others. Thank God most plants are not weeds.  
My favourites are the fruit trees.  Most fruit trees are grafted plants like vines.  I've never grafted plants but I know how it's done. If you look at their base there's always a swollen join where the stock meets the graft.  Plants are grafted together so the strength and vitality of one fuels the potential of the other.  Usually the rootstock is wild and vigorous and the graft is a domesticated variety that lacks vitality.  Graft the two together and you get something vibrant and fruitful.
One still needs to prune.  Pruning isn't just cutting away branches.  It's an art.  It shapes the plant and can determine whether and how much fruit it bears. Careful pruning channels the life of the rootstock into the buds and therefore into the branches and the fruit.  Careful pruning helps keep a plant healthy.  One prunes the diseased and injured branches first and burns them so they don't infect other plants.  
Although it has been years since I pruned or even cared for a plant it still pains me to see them neglected or worse badly tended.  
Trees don't have a nervous system or any means to experience pain but we do.  When I apply our Lord's words on pruning the vine to myself I remember experiences of pruning and shaping.  A number of weeks ago I told you about the time I had to care for the physical needs of brother who was doubly incontinent.  He was a good man and rarely gave trouble but he could not communicate. Having to get him out of bed, wash him and dress him, change his nappies during the day and put him to bed was very hard for me.  I felt trapped.  I felt great relief when I no longer had to do that.  Yet I learned that I could do that.  I got more from him than he did from me.  Through that experience I was pruned and shaped. 
If any of us searches our memories we will find times when we were pruned by others or by our experiences.  Unlike trees we can feel and pruning hurts.  Maybe the pruning has been inexpert and careless. Perhaps it may have helped us to grow and to blossom.  Some of our experiences may have left deep scars that are very hard to heal unless they are tended by the master gardener Himself.
It is the same with our lives as it is with out bodies and with plants. There is within us a wild and rebellious urge to go our own way. If we allow that to happen we end up with lifeless chaos.  If wounds are not treated and healed they become infected and cause more problems.  If diseases are not dealt with they get worse.  If we do not cultivate a healthy way of growing then we become out of shape, and cannot produce the good we should do.  If one part of our life is spiritually or morally out of kilter then all the rest is affected.
Not one of us is perfectly shaped unless we allow the Father, the master gardener, to prune, shape and train us to His plan so that we can bring forth all the potential that lies within us.     Only if we draw our life and resources from our rootstock Christ can we grow, blossom and bear fruit that lasts.  Only through our union with Christ can we be truly alive and avoid the fire.
We remain grafted to Christ through Holy Communion in a state of grace, through prayer, through obedience to His word and to the teaching of His Church, through loving others in the truth and extending to them the love and mercy Christ has extended to us.
God made us so that we should grow, flourish, blossom and bring forth goodness and holiness, let's not turn into weeds.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

DOUBT NO LONGER BUT BELEIVE: a homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, year B (John 20:19–31)

What it must have been like to be alive at that time, to be a believer just as the Church is beginning!  What drama there must have been as they struggled to deal with not only the horrific death of Christ but with the shock of His resurrection!  Remember orthodox Jews had no such expectation of a resurrection before the Last Day. They did expect the Messiah, the Christ to herald a new Jewish Kingdom.  There world was turned upside down by the shameful death of our Lord upon the cross – that’s what the Jewish leaders intended!  Then they find the empty tomb.  Then He starts to appear to believers. Peter sees Him, and the other apostles, then five hundred disciples.  There are many appearances.  This is just one of those.
Christ is not restricted by His humanity or the materiality of His body.  He could work miracles before but He still respected the laws of science and knocked on a door rather than walk through walls.  Now He does not even bother with that.  As Lord and Creator the Universe is His sandbox and as its Creator He can play with the laws He has decreed as a harpist plays with the strings of His harp.  
There is a playfulness in His sudden appearances.  They are in hiding afraid for their lives and He just shows up and confronts them with His reality.   They are incredulous so He gives the evidence of His identity – His wounds – proof of His suffering, His love, His obedience to the Father, of His resurrection.  He eats and drinks with them to show them that He remains truly human.
Peace is His first wish and gift to us – not just any peace but real peace, peace between us and God.  To make that peace effective He gives them, the apostles, the power to forgive sins or to retain them!  Our sins can be forgiven!  Any evil we may fall into can be wiped away if we repent and allow the Church to apply the healing salve of Christ’s grace in the Sacrament of confession.  His Sacrifice of Himself on the Cross, His offering of His eternal worship of the Father on our behalf, infinitely outweighs any and every evil we could commit.  His song to the Father corrects all our errors and makes us fit for the choirs of Heaven.  
Our sins can not only be forgiven but they can be retained!  That’s not a fact that is often mentioned today! Absolution can be withheld if the penitent does not admit his guilt, or denies some article of the Faith, or for some other serious reason.  Let us not fall into that trap!  Let us not take the grace of God for granted.
Thomas, the positivist, one who asserts that only those things that can be proved are worthy of belief, wants his experiential, measureable evidence.   He is much like many in the modern world that thinks it is being scientific and mature by demanding proof for everything it would rather not acknowledge.  
Science can only deal with the material world, it cannot prove quite a number of things, rational beliefs that cannot be subject to scientific measurement or examination.  It cannot prove logical or mathematical truth since it presupposes them.
It cannot prove metaphysical truths such as the existence of minds other than my own, the reality of the world around me or existence of that world prior not only to my existence but to my present self-awareness.  It presupposes these truths.
It cannot prove the truth or falsehood of ethical judgments about right and wrong.  Science cannot tell us whether the Nazis were right or wrong in what they did to the Jews and other minorities in the concentration camps. It cannot tell us why it is wrong to kill or abuse an innocent human being or to steal, or lie.
It cannot prove the truth or falsehood of aesthetic judgments on the beauty of anything.  Scientists can weigh and measure a painting and subject the materials to various tests but as scientists they have no more to say on its beauty than anyone else.
Lastly science cannot prove science! Science assumes and cannot prove the truth of the mathematics and logic upon which it depends.  Mathematics and logic do not proceed from experiment but from self-evident principles.
Christ’s response to Thomas and His doubt is to present him with the tangible proof of His resurrection, His Real Presence.  Thomas still needs faith to see beyond Christ’s humanity to His Divinity and he is not found lacking.  He goes further than the other disciples and confesses Christ’s Divine personhood.  According to tradition he also went further than the others geographically and ended his days in India.
What proofs can we offer the doubters today? What evidence can we present? We must first know our Faith and hold to it.  We should also know how to present it in ways that are rational and reasonable.  I recommend one book: The Case for Christwhich, although written by a Protestant, lays out the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament accounts of our Lord and his resurrection.
We are also called to be the proof of the resurrection by living our faith.  No one will believe what we say if they are not convinced by what we do, by how we behave.  We must seek to be saints, really and genuinely holy, devoted to the will of the Lord.  Not only will people know we are Christians by our love they will know Christ.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

'HE IS RISEN, HE IS TRULY RISEN': a homily for Easter Sunday (John 20:1–9)

            “Christos Anesti!” and the reply is “Aleithos Anesti!”   These are the greetings among the Greek Christians as they greet one another this morning. ‘Christ is risen!’ and ‘He is truly risen!’.   How do we greet one another?  “Happy Easter” A bit lame, is it not?  Not exactly a proclamation of our joy at the great work of the Lord and the central belief of our Faith is it?  We have contemplated the life, sufferings and death of our Lord and now we celebrate His resurrection. Yet for how many of us does this go much beyond a mere piece of information, something else we ‘kind of’ believe?  It is a common place to disparage the Christian faith today but that only shows the ignorance of those who do not believe.  If one examines the evidence the solid foundations of our Faith appear.  
Let us examine the evidence for the resurrection of our Lord then.  We have John’s own account.  John tells us that he entered the tomb after Peter and while Peter could not believe that our Lord had risen from the dead he, John, saw and believed.  What did he see? He saw four things, four facts. He saw that the guards were gone. He saw the heavy stone was rolled away.  He saw the body was missing and he saw the cloths were rolled up, left behind.

I propose to you that there are four facts that alone point to the truth of our Lord’s resurrection: His burial, the empty tomb, His post-mortem appearances and the disciple's belief in His resurrection.  I don’t have the time to go into all the details but there are plenty of reliable videos and books that lay out the evidence more thoroughly than I can. First though I must tell you about the principle of embarrassment which states that if an account includes facts embarrassing to the community it affects then it is likely to be true.  Made up stories do not have details that are embarrassing to the storyteller!
It might surprise you that I begin with the fact of our Lord’s burial.  There can be no resurrection without a burial.  How do we know He was buried?  Well even Jewish archaeologists accept that the Sepulchre in Jerusalem stood in a graveyard and is, I quote, “almost certainly the tomb of Christ.”  There are no other contenders for that.  The Christian community in Jerusalem remembered where the tomb was even after the Roman’s built a pagan temple on top of it.  That the Roman’s went to the trouble of building a temple there is itself evidence that we have authentic tomb of our Lord. We also have multiple independent sources attesting to Christ’s burial.  In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul quotes an early creed and it mentions the burial.  That creed is now dated to within five years of our Lord’s death.  The embarrassing facts are that our Lord died as a condemned criminal by the most dreadful death the Romans could impose and that his tomb was provided by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the very Sanhedrin that had just condemned Him.   
Then there is the empty tomb.  Christ was buried but then the body disappeared.  The apostles, like all Jews, had an obsession with ritual cleanliness and a horror of touching the dead, especially someone who had bled to death. They would not and could not have taken the body and yet no one else had it.  The embarrassing fact in the finding of the empty tomb is that the first people to discover it are women.  These women are listed as witnesses to this.  In first century Israel women were not considered reliable witnesses and some would not even accept their testimony in court.  (There are those who argue they are still not accepted).  The embarrassing fact that they are listed as witnesses is a sign that the story of the empty tomb is true.  Our Lord’s body disappeared.
Thirdly Christ appeared not just to individuals but to large groups of men and women.  The New Testament records the principle names even of the women who saw Him.  As I have just said  women were not considered reliable witnesses so why mention them?  They are mentioned because they had seen the Lord.  These appearances were not visions, for they ate and drank with Him, walked and talked with Him, and even put their hands into His wounds.  Many years later John writes in one of his letters of his amazement at the resurrection.  Paul, in listing those who had seen the risen Lord, including himself, says in passing that many of these witnesses were still alive.  Why does he mention them?  He mentions them so that they could be consulted on what they had seen.
Lastly the apostles and disciples insisted from the very beginning that our Lord had risen from the dead.  It is thecentral point of their preaching: Christ died and is risen!  Jews at that time had no expectation of any resurrection before the Day of Judgment.  In addition their understanding of the Messiah was of one who would establish an earthly Kingdom.  The shameful crucifixion and death of our Lord was seen as a contradiction of this.  That’s why the Jewish leaders had pushed for our Lord to be crucified! Yet the disciples go out to proclaim that our Lord is the Messiah and the evidence they point to is His resurrection.  In return they were persecuted, tortured and all but one of them was martyred.  The gospel, the message of the death and resurrection of our Lord, brought them toil and suffering.  It separated them from their families and communities and sent them all over the known world and beyond.  It even cost them their lives.  It did not make them famous, nor did it make them rich or powerful. Yet they continued to assert Christ rose from the dead.  If someone is willing to put not only his money and his comfort but also his very life where his mouth is then he must be telling the truth.
There are other evidences that support the truth of the resurrection and of our Faith. I could point to the extraordinarily rapid growth of the Church despite persecution.  I could point to the work of His grace in all the saints down the ages.  I could point to the Shroud of Turin and all the recent work on it that reinforces the belief that it is not only Christ’s shroud but also a witness to the resurrection.  I urge you to research these things for yourselves.  Arm yourselves with the truth of the Faith.  

So the resurrection of our Lord is well attested.  In rising from the dead He did not merely resuscitate.  He did not return to His earthly life.  Instead He no longer hid His divinity but rather He began to manifest it through His Church.  His life was one long revelation of His loving obedience to, and His worship of, the Father.  It reached a crescendo on the cross on Good Friday when He offered all of Himself, His humanity and His divinity, to the Father on our behalf.  It was the completion of His 'YES!' to the Father.  Then came silence, the silence of Holy Saturday.  On the third day the Father gave His 'YES' to the Son by raising Him from the dead and in His resurrection we too rise.
Perhaps the most accessible evidence of the resurrection is us.  If we inform and live our Faith, we will come to understand better what we believe.  As we believe more deeply, we will love our Lord more.  As we love our Lord more we will love our neighbour more.  As we love our neighbour more they will come to see that Christ is not dead, He is risen.  Indeed He is truly risen!


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