HOMILY FOR MASS OF THE 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR C + PASCHAL EUCHARIST FOR NEOPHYTES
Fifteen years ago Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, was released to hostile reviews but strong audiences. It was soon the highest-grossing ‘Christian film’ of all time. One of the most moving moments in the film is when Mary (played by Maia Morgenstern) runs to meet her Son (played by Jim Caviezel) on his way to the cross and the two strengthen each other. Gibson uses poetic licence to put on the Suffering Christ’s lips the words He speaks from His heavenly throne in today’s second reading (Rev 21:1-5): “See Mother how I make all things new!”
Gibson’s transposition was theologically insightful: that Christ’s glory was in His Passion, not just His rising and ascension. In our Gospel today (Jn 13:31-35) Jesus begins His track to the cross declaring “Now is the Son of man glorified”. Now – in His self-emptying, humiliation, suffering. Sure, Jesus will rise victorious – but even then, with His wounds. Sure, He is the Lamb reigning from the heavenly throne – but He is also the Lamb that was slain, whose sacrifice takes away the sins of the world. It was in His suffering and response to suffering that Jesus was glorified.
This great mystery was one Jesus often taught, but His disciples rarely grasped: that only by spending our lives do we get them back; only by pouring ourselves out are we filled up; only by chancing humiliation will we be glorified; only by serving have true authority; only by doing what is right will we have a shot at happiness. It’s only by taking up the deadening cross that Christians are brought to new life; only by being sewn as seeds ‘dead’ in ground that the Church sprouts anew (Mt 16:24-6; Jn 12:24).
Now Jesus joins this revelation of glory transfiguring darkness to His love commandment: what is glorious is not suffering itself, but suffering and still loving, enduring lovingly, loving patiently. No longer is His commandment just ‘love your neighbour as yourself’: now it’s ‘love as I have loved you… lay down your life for your friend’. Even the pagans will say: see how these Christians love each other.
Dear neophytes, today you give thanks for your journey to Easter and those who influenced it. Today we give thanks for the faith and courage that brought you to us. Together we thank God for the great gifts of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist by which Christ makes all things new. Not that you’ve now ticked the Christian box: conversion continues until death – and a little beyond, through purgatory; faith must be enriched, worship become more fervent, service ever more generous.
In today’s first reading we see that happening before our eyes (Acts 14:21-7). The apostle Paul and bishop Barnabas make for Antioch – where we were first called Christians – gathering the faithful along the way, telling of God’s mighty deeds and opening doors for the gentiles. They visit struggling parishes, ordaining priests to carry on the ministries of word and sacrament, confirming those already Christians and converting yet-to-be-Christians, “putting fresh heart into them, encouraging them to persevere in the Faith.” Already the first Christians knew persecution; already the temptation to fall away from their initial fervour and be converted by the culture rather than converting it. In this era we, like them, must claim a space for people of faith and help build the Church, much as the first Christians had to do.
Those great theologians, the Beatles, taught All You Need Is Love. You don’t need to take up the cross. You don’t need apostles and preachers, word and sacrament, and all the rest. All you need is love. And they’d be right, of course, if we really knew how to love; if divine charity truly informed our character and choices; if the author of love God the Father Himself, if the incarnation of love God the Son, if the very Spirit of love God the Holy Spirit, truly shaped our hearts, relationships and actions. But we often fail to love. And even when we try, love has many counterfeits. The Beatles generation trivialised one night stands by calling them ‘making love’ and the result a ‘love child’. Since then, people have talked of loving ice-cream, pet rabbits, football stars they’ve never met. We sentimentalize and banalize, disconnecting love from faith and reason, displacing it from virtues and values. And as the currency of love is devalued, so are the subjects and objects of our loving. Our society is all mixed up about marriage, family, even friendship. Unless a relationship is sexualised and solemnised people think it inconsequential. Or they think Facebook strangers are their friends.
Yet friendship, in its many forms, should be our specialty as Christians. We should be the best friends, the greatest lovers. For this is Christianity’s unique take on God: that God lives from all eternity as a relationship of three Persons; that that God, though totally self-contained, wanted our friendship so much He gave His only Son for us to befriend or not (Jn 3:16); that that Son in turn loved us so much He gave His very life in the Passion; and that that divine hand of friendship has been held out to us ever since in His word and sacraments. You might say the whole purpose of the Church is to make human beings great lovers like God, to seal and deepen, stretch and mature our friendships.
It’s only in the context of such a renewed understanding of friendship that the Church’s teachings on asylum-seekers or human trafficking, on marriage or abortion, on the need for Confession and Communion, or on the crucial importance of religious freedom, will make sense: for they are all about more and better loving, not after the fashion of the heart-shaped Valentines so much as after the cross-shaped love of Easter.
Of course, when people see a cross they think of funerals more than love affairs. If you gave your beloved a card with a cross on the outside on Valentine’s Day, she might think you were saying you wished she were dead! Yet Christian love is cruciform, because it is self-spending, it commits and serves and endures, even unto death; a love that keeps on loving when the warm feelings subside, when the loving is hard. The love we preach is a love that loves not willy-nilly but according to faith and reason; a love that tells the story not of self-will but of divine will; a love that seeks self-donation more than self-fulfilment.
“Love one another,” says Jesus today to our neophytes and old-timers, “as I have loved you.” There humiliated and deserted upon the cross, loving even His enemies, calling down God’s forgiveness upon them; there giving and not counting cost, turning the other cheek, praying even for His persecutors; there uniting Himself to His Bride the Church for all wounded humanity: there we learn what real friendship is and the glory of real loving, a love that makes all things new!
REMARKS AT PRESENTATION FOLLOWING PASCHAL EUCHARIST FOR NEOPHYTES
People often ask after one of the round birthdays, or after you get confirmed or married or ordained, whether you feel different. Children often say yes, they feel much older or wiser or holier after such marker events, but that is largely to keep adults happy or because kids are more imaginative and sensitive than hardened oldies.
Do you feel different after Baptism, Confirmation and first Eucharist? Some of you report that how you see and relate to God, the world and yourself has been affected. Because the Mass is the very intersection of those three mysteries of God, the world and yourself, you must relate differently to the Mass now…
Yet many changes in our lives go unnoticed, at least at the time, and many of the most important things are unfelt, or don’t feel especially dramatic, romantic or holy. The mother who gets up many times a night for a screaming child probably doesn’t feel warm and mushy inside towards her child or herself or her snoring husband or God. But her love is real, indeed in some ways more real, than the love of the person with the warm inner glow. Whether or not you feel different, you really are very different, to the very depths of your being. You now belong to the family of God the Father, you have been bought for a price by God the Son, you are a Temple for God the Holy Spirit. You are now a part of a local Catholic community, a diocese, a worldwide Church of people just like you – 1.2 billion of them at the last count – and a history already millennia long and stretching forward into eternity.
It has been a privilege for all of us to witness that defining moment of your life when you entered into Christ. Above all, of course, we give thanks to Him to whose life, death and resurrection you have been joined, and whose identity and destiny is now yours for ever. Keep praying to Him like those early Christians in the Acts of the Apostles. Keep learning about Him, studying your Catholic Faith, asking your questions and contemplating the mysteries. Be zealous in sharing that faith with others through evangelisation and service. Be the new Pauls and Barnabases for our age!
Congratulations newest Christians! Welcome to the family of God! God bless you always!
INTRODUCTION TO MASS OF THE 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR C +
PASCHAL EUCHARIST FOR NEOPHYTES
Welcome to St Mary’s Basilica for this Solemn Mass for the 5th Sunday of Easter. Concelebrating with me is the Archbishop of Perth, the Most Rev. Timothy Costelloe SDB, whom I warmly salute.
This morning we pray for the new parliament and government of Australia: for wisdom in service of the common good; for compassion in care for the most needy; and for respect for religious liberty at a time of many threats.
This morning we are also delighted to greet our neophytes who were elected for Baptism here at the beginning of Lent and were Baptised into the family of God in their parishes at Easter. We welcome you back, no longer as the elect but now as our dear brothers and sisters in Christ, every bit as truly Christians and Catholics as your bishops and priests, sponsors and fellow parishioners. Today we give thanks for your journey to Easter 2019. I look forward to hearing from you after Mass about how your first Easter season has gone.
To everyone here this morning, including visitors and more regulars, a very warm welcome!