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Easter Vigil 2018 – Homily by Cardinal John Dew

Easter Vigil 2018

A week ago on Palm Sunday I suggested that we look at Jesus entering Jerusalem, look at him carrying his cross, look at him dying on the cross and hear him saying “Do you see anything here that is not love?”

“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.” -i Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Lord Jesus, you have shown us the way to the Father.

What follows is an overview of the Holy Week liturgy through the lens of those words that we use in the Penitential Rite at Mass.

We are people of the Way, an ancient term for the first Christians which is found in the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus showed us that way throughout his whole life on earth, but this way becomes particularly clear and calls to us most profoundly in the events of Holy Week, not only by Jesus’s words, however striking they are, but by his actions and what he suffered, beyond words. Those events invite us to enter upon this way interiorly, through the words, actions and silences of the liturgy. Through that liturgy we make a commitment of faith to know Jesus more clearly, as individuals, but also as pilgrims together. We are drawn into ancient traditions of contemplating these events.

It is a way of humility in obedience and commitment to the Father

We begin with the Palm Sunday procession, to re-enact the journey of Jesus with his disciples and those who followed him from Bethany to Jerusalem (Mt 21:1-11). We follow him as our king, but one riding on a donkey in humility and in obedience to the Father’s word through the prophet Zechariah (Zec 9:9). As we proceed into the Mass the readings prepare us to focus on this obedience. From the Third Servant Song of Second Isaiah (Is 50:4-7), we hear that the Servant has been given,  ‘a disciple’s tongue…Each morning [the Lord] wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple.’ The second reading, from the kenosis hymn used by St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians (Phil 2:6-11), tells us that Jesus,

emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.

This leads us into the dramatic account of the Passion. This year it is according to Matthew, which, as in the infancy narrative and other places in the gospel, focuses on fulfilment and obedience to God’s plan as the evangelist conceives it.

It is the way of the Servant

Just as in the Mass of Palm Sunday, so in the following days of Holy Week we prepare to hear about the events leading to the Passion by listening to the Servant Songs in Second Isaiah (42:1-7; 49:1-6; 50:4-9 – the latter repeating the Palm Sunday reading). On Good Friday we hear the Suffering Servant Song (Is 52:13-53:12) after the prostration of the celebrants in silence and the opening prayer. It serves as a meditation on the Passion according to John.

It is a way of self-giving and sharing

The self-giving of Jesus and the sharing in our humanity, and we with him, is very dramatically yet simply portrayed by the Washing of the Feet on Maundy Thursday. This follows John’s account (Jn 13:1-15), which is a sort of prologue to the Passion. It can be viewed as an insight into the self-emptying of the cross and the giving of the Eucharist. Bare feet make us aware of human vulnerability. Stooping to wash and dry them carefully is a sign of delicate respect for our neighbour, especially in that neighbour’s weakness and poverty. ‘If I, t hen, the Lord and master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet.’ In its place in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, this surely points to the self-giving and sharing of Jesus in the Eucharist.

It is a way of deep silence

The liturgy of Good Friday is embraced by deep silence, at the beginning and at the end. The cross is beyond words. We begin with the silence of the congregation; on Good Friday, the congregation is usually large, so the silence is particularly moving. The opening silence in which the celebrants prostrate is underlined by the bareness of the altar and the open, empty tabernacle. After the readings and the enacting of the Passion according to John, in which we all take our parts, the best response is silence, perhaps preceded by just a few brief words to present one aspect of the story we have just heard for some minutes of quiet reflection, to let it sink in. After the ancient prayers, which encompass the needs of the Church and the world, there is adoration of a large cross, gradually unveiled.  Our response is to file up and show our commitment to the Saviour with a wordless kiss, a very personal act which speaks for itself. The service is completed with a very simple reception of Holy Communion without a Mass, like the way we receive when we are sick or bedridden or approaching death. In all this, silence is our most fitting response to a death by crucifixion. The nature of that intense pain and increasing difficulty of breathing allowed very few words to be uttered.

It is a way of renewed promise of the Covenant

The long and complex liturgy of Holy Saturday begins with a very basic symbol of promised light, the Paschal Candle, lit from a blessed fire and illuminating the darkness of the church. Our own individual candles are lit from the great candle and light is passed from person to person, a simple action of solidarity. The promise of new life in Christ is rooted in the Covenant, and the readings, responses and prayers are staging posts on the journey of God’s relations with his people. The promise is realised in Baptism and the renewal of our baptismal promises, through which we are engaged in the risen life of the One whose journey we have been following throughout this solemn week. We receive the Easter sacrament with alleluias.

We have been shown the way to the Father. We are invited to continue to walk in that way.

Holy Saturday, too is a day on which we ‘stay’: a quiet day, a day at the tomb. Jesus is dead; the one who loved us unto death is gone. Ignatius invites retreatants to spend this day with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to be with her at this time; to use all of our senses to experience what this day was like for her, before we move, as the sun sets, into the time of great rejoicing.

Rejoice

In the evening of Holy Saturday, when all goes dark, we gather together to celebrate the Easter Vigil. This liturgy re-tells the story of our salvation, from creation to resurrection.

We begin outside or in the porch of the church, with the Liturgy of Light. A fire is lit and, from that, so too the Easter candle. Bit by bit, light spreads throughout the Church and in a beautifully symbolic way, we see the victory of the Light of Christ over the darkness of the church and, symbolically, our world. The vestments are once again white (or gold), holy water is back in the stoups and the bells will ring again. We hear in the Exultet, the song of praise after the Liturgy of Light, that ‘this is the night’, and so it is: the night above all others when we celebrate our redemption, our freedom from sin and death and our joy at being children of the resurrection. In the Liturgy of the Word we are reminded of our covenantal relationship with God that has been sealed with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. If there are new members of the Church to be baptised, this also happens at this Mass, and they are welcomed into the body of the Church as it is revitalised through the new life of Easter. The Easter Vigil is a liturgy of great joy, a joy that cannot only be ours. We must share it and so at the end of the Mass we are sent out on mission, to ‘glorify God by our lives’. Do we do this? Can you, having heard and lived the story of your salvation and mine, be transformed by it this Easter?

‘Becoming conscious changes you’, writes Louis Savary,[iv] and so it should be with the Easter Triduum. Our understanding of and being with Jesus in his suffering, and then sharing the joy of his resurrection, should change us, it should change me. I can choose not to engage with what I see, hear, experience in the liturgies of the Easter Triduum, but that in itself is a response – and that changes me, too.

So what will your response be this Easter? What do you desire it to be? Talk to God, as a friend talks to a friend, about the days you are about to spend together.

On Good Friday, there was no Eucharist – simply a communion service, with the Body of Christ from the Holy Thursday Eucharist.  On Holy Saturday, there is no liturgy at all.  The liturgy this evening is the vigil – the preparation for and entry into the celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection.  It is an Easter Sunday liturgy.

On Holy Saturday we enter into the mystery.  Today we contemplate Jesus, there in the tomb, dead.  In that tomb, he is dead, exactly the way each of us will be dead.  We don’t easily contemplate dying, but we rarely contemplate being dead.  I have had the blessed experience of being with a number of people who have died, of arriving at a hospital shortly after someone has died, of attending an autopsy, and of praying with health sciences students over donated bodies in gross anatomy class.  These were powerful experiences because they all brought me face-to-face with the mystery of death itself.  With death, life ends.  Breathing stops, and in an instant, the life of this person has ended.  And, in a matter of hours, the body becomes quite cold and life-less — dramatic evidence, to our senses, that this person no longer exists.  All that is left is this decaying shell that once held his or her life.

Death is our ultimate fear.  Everything else we fear, every struggle we have, is some taste of, some chilling approach to, the experience of losing our life.  This fear is responsible for so much of our lust and greed, so much of our denial and arrogance, so much of our silly clinging to power, so much of our hectic and anxiety-driven activity.  It is the one, inevitable reality we all will face.  There is not enough time, money, joy, fulfillment, success.  Our physical beauty and strength, our mental competency and agility, all that we have and use to define ourselves, slip away from us with time.  Our lives are limited.  Our existence, in every way we can comprehand it, comes to an end.  We will all die.  In a matter of time, all that will be left of any of us is a decomposing body.

Today is a day to soberly put aside the blinders we have about the mystery of death and our fear of it.  Death is very real and its approach holds great power in our lives.  The “good news” we are about to celebrate has no real power in our lives unless we have faced the reality of death.  To contemplate Jesus’ body, there in that tomb, is to look our death in the face, and it is preparation for hearing the Gospel with incredible joy.  That we are saved from the ultimate power of sin and of death itself comes to us as a great relief, as a tremendous liberation.  If Jesus lives, you and I will live!  The mystery of death, which we contemplate today, will be overcome – we will live forever!

Today’s reflection will lead us to the vigil of Easter.  This night, communities from all over the world will gather in darkness, a darkness that represents all that we have been reflecting upon today.

The God who created us, who led a chosen people out of slavery, raised Jesus from death.  We can rejoice that death has no final victory over us.  Then we celebrate the Easter Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.  Tonight we celebrate our faith — that we have been baptized into the death of Jesus, so that we might have everlasting life with him.

As we behold the body of Jesus in the tomb today, and as we contemplate the mystery of our death, we prepare our hearts to receive the Good News of life.  We know that tomb will be empty and remain empty forever as a sign that our lives will not really end, but only be transformed.  One day, we will all rest in the embrace of Jesus, who knows our death, and who prepares a place for us in everlasting life.  Our reflection on this holy Saturday, and our anticipation of celebrating the gift of life tonight and tomorrow, can bring immense peace and joy, powerful freedom and vitality to our lives.  For if we truly believe that death holds no true power over us, we can walk each day with courage and freedom, in the grace being offered us – to give our lives away in love.

Brothers and sisters: 
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus 
were baptized into his death? 
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, 
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, 
we too might live in newness of life.

For if we have grown into union with him 
through a death like his, 
we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.

Rom 6:3-11

 

Chrism Mass 2018 – Homily by Cardinal John Dew

CHRISM MASS 2018.

Go, you are sent.” We heard those words many times last year in relation to our Synod. It is easy to connect the Synod theme to tonight’s Gospel:

“The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me,

for he has anointed me.

He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,

to proclaim liberty to captives

and to the blind new sight,

to set the downtrodden free,

to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.”

Jesus knew he was sent to the poor, the captives, the blind, the downtrodden……..we are too. Our task is to work how, who, and where they are today and bring them Good News. We are all sent to continue the mission Jesus was anointed for, the mission we are all anointed for in Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders.

We are sent into and live in a messy world, and a messy Church. We live in messy families. Pope Francis wrote in his document on the Family “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need to constantly grow and mature in the ability to love.” A L 325   Those words seemed to give families permission to be themselves, knowing that they are not perfect and that is okay. It’s into that world, where all need to grow and mature in the ability to love, that we are all sent. We journey together, supporting and helping one another throughout life in all its ups and downs.

Almost 30 years ago, in July 1989 Cardinal Tom Williams wrote a Pastoral Letter to the diocese, it was about the 1988 Synod; He wrote – “The outcome will not be revolutionary. I have to be a realist like yourselves and accept that the most telling image of the Church is an untidy caravan struggling across the desert, not a regiment of infantry marching in perfect step across an immaculate parade ground. We are, after all, the People of God, and people are imperfect and contradictory. To know it we have only to look at ourselves.”

The world is not perfect, our Church is not perfect, families are not perfect. There are poor, captives, blind, downtrodden people everywhere, people who are struggling to live, people living without dignity and hope. ….we are anointed to take good news to them, and be good news for them.

In October 2016 there had been some devastating earthquakes in Central Italy, 159 people were killed in Amatrice. Pope Francis visited Amatrice, he visited a makeshift school, spoke with emergency and fire personnel. He wandered through parts of the city sitting with people, exchanging hugs and kisses, and just spent time with people who needed support. He said: “Since the beginning I felt that I had to come to you, simply to tell you that I am close to you, nothing else, and that I pray for you.”

He was just “being with” those people. It’s something he is good at, it’s something he wants us to do. It’s also often what Jesus did…. He was WITH people. Pope Francis has emphasized this to bishops and priests several times,  “We are promoters of the dialogue of encounter, dialogue is our method.”

Pope Francis tells us that our lives, especially as priests, is to be with people, walking with them, listening to them and accompanying them.  In Evangelii Gaudium (169) he wrote: ‘In our world, ordained ministers and other pastoral workers can make present the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and his personal gaze. The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment”. The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.”

He’s encouraging us to be close to and to accompany the poor, the captives, the blind and the downtrodden. Anyone in ministry today is sent as Jesus was sent …and what did he do, he walked with people, sat and listened. We are asked and are privileged to understand, forgive, accompany and integrate those with messed up and difficult lives into the life of the Church.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit. He would have known some of the things written and said by that great Jesuit Theologian, Karl Rahner. Rahner once asked the question “Why would a modern man want to become or remain a priest today?”  He then answered his own question with stunning simplicity.

He said that for him it is not the great works of the church in the service of justice and peace, the great universities and the great movements and programs. “Rather,” he said, “I still see around me living in many of my brother priests a readiness for unselfish service carried out quietly, a readiness for prayer, for abandonment to the incomprehensibility of God, for the total dedication to the following of Christ crucified.”

The Church of Wellington is blessed to have priests who continually show a readiness for  unselfish service carried out quietly, a readiness for prayer, abandonment to the incomprehensibility of God, for the total dedication to the following of Christ crucified.

As your priests renew their priestly promises this evening, pray for them, pray that they will be sent with renewed enthusiasm and know these words of Pope Francis:

What we invest in love remains, the rest vanishes.”

What we invest in love remains, the rest vanishes.”

 

 

 

 

Palm Sunday 2018 – Homily by Cardinal John Dew

Palm Sunday 2018

We are invited today to plunge whole-heartedly into the Gospel and imagine ourselves among the crowds that came to Jerusalem, as it says in John’s Gospel, “to learn that Jesus is coming.”

We are invited to imagine ourselves “the hordes of people who spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields.” We pray about that today and try to connect spiritually with this event as closely as possible.

Who is this Galilean arriving in the Holy City?

Would you be among those who strode ahead to meet him or those who followed?

Would your voice join those who sang out “Hosanna in the highest” or would you have been among the silent onlookers startled by the scenes of excitement when they saw this man coming into Jerusalem on a donkey?

Do you stand back in admiration of the strange new Messiah or are you influenced by those who were prejudiced against him?

Would you have been a pilgrim or a dawdler?

Have you ever thought on Palm Sunday which kind of behaviour you would have shown towards Jesus on this day?

It can be quite easy to think about the change of heart and behaviour in those who were present in that week…it is easy to think about THEM and not even think about the call to conversion – and a change of attitude and behaviour in ourselves – Holy Wek Invites us to think of where we are in all of this. In all humility we too know that our hands would have carried palms and shouted in welcome, AND THAT on Friday would shout out “Crucify him, crucify him!”

This week, we again have the chance to begin to allow Christ’s unconditional love to bloom in our hearts.

We cannot judge the crowds at Jerusalem as if the crowds in Jerusalem were never were never completely clear in the way they felt about Jesus of Nazareth, sometimes for him, sometimes against him. We too have doubts and lack faith at times. Our own belief and our prayers are occasionally weighed down by scepticism and fear.

We change, we are believing and yet unbelieving, we are enthusiastic and then tired and weary; we shut out in welcome and excitement, and then call ‘Crucify him.”  Whatever we are…. changing and fickle ……. HE is always the totally loving and compassionate shepherd, teacher and healer. The “Hosanna” is now ours.  Our hearts may vibrate today in fragile faith, but we pray that this week our fragile faith will still lead us to keep our gaze transfixed on Jesus.

Today and throughout this week we respond to the invitation of Jesus “Look at me,” we will look at him and we will hear him say “Do you see anything that is not Love?”

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO SHARE JESUS

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO SHARE JESUS

HOMILY – 5 LENT [B] 2018

Did you hear the warning this week about the threat of plastic bags to marine life? Apparently, if nothing’s done to clean up the mess, by 2050 the weight of plastic in the world’s oceans will outweigh all the fish!

News like this fuels the “carbon footprint” argument that we humans are polluting the earth at an intolerable rate, to the point where numbers of young people are increasingly pessimistic about the future. They feel their presence only adds to the problem, and that they shouldn’t have been born.

An appropriate thought for this stage of Lent. There’s a sense of foreboding in the words of Jesus as he speaks of the dark times ahead – giving us the image of the wheat grain that must die in the darkness and isolation of the soil, if it’s ever to find its fulfilment in harvest.

What starts as a negative – death of the seed – is shown to have positive results – a great harvest. Life, death, life flow in a natural rhythm. There’s confusion when some Greeks ask to see Jesus. Their request catches the apostles unprepared and they have to consult before they pass these newcomers on to Jesus: did he mean his message for Greeks? Didn’t they have their own religion? What are they up to? Can they be trusted?

I think the challenge to the apostles was, did they want to share Jesus? They had a tight little group. Racially and culturally they were united. Let’s keep it that way! None of us want to lose what we value. Those who feel they’re contributing to global warming and other pollution simply because they’re alive, don’t really want to die – they’re caught by their sense of helplessness in the face of global problems beyond their influence or control. The apostles, and you and I who follow Jesus, can feel comfortable in the ritual and practice we know and appreciate, and want to keep things that way. But also like the apostles, we must see ourselves as seeds, sent to be sown – buried alive, not dead! To quote Mahatma Gandhi: To find yourself you have to lose yourself, and when you lose yourself you find yourself fulfilled.

The “positive” to all this appears if you remove concern about the “footprint” you might be leaving on the ecosystem, and look at what your hands can do: weeding, planting, reaping, harvesting, embracing, comforting, holding, affirming… It is the work of human hands that we lift to God, that meet the requirements of the partnership role we’ve each been given. If my footprint scars the earth and stamps out life, my handprint can hold and heal and join me more firmly to life.

God speaks to our hearts – our instincts and feelings. Intellect and intelligence are not God’s primary concern. Jeremiah (1st Reading: J 31:31-34) makes this clear – I will plant my law, writing it on their hearts – and they will be my people and I will be their God. It’s our experience of love – the realm of the heart – that directs faith and motivates the desire to belong and to contribute.

Our throwaway world, symbolised by plastic, threatens life because it doesn’t care. By learning to read the law written on your heart, any hesitation to serve and to give disappears, because you discover a community with so many others. Heart and hand together guarantee sowing and reaping, helping those fearful of tomorrow to be convinced they can make something of today.

Homily – Fifth Sunday of Lent – Cardinal John Dew

Fifth Sunday of Lent, 18th March 2018, Cathedral

“See, the days are coming” they were the first words we heard from the reading from the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was saying that v-because the people had been unfaithful to God that something new was about to happen…..he talked about a New Covenant that would not be an external Law, but that would be planted in the people themselves and through God’s mercy they would have a personal and direct knowledge of God.

“See, the days are coming”…that is what Lent is all about for you and I, God is doing something new for us as we listen more deeply to His words, as we through God’s grace grow in the way we respond to God and others every day. Lent is a time of personal renewal, a time to be more aware of the fact that God has written his law in our hearts

The days are coming when God will do all those things for us, are we ready for what God wants to do in our hearts.

Last weekend he whole world observed 24 hours of Prayer for the Lord. This year our 24 Hours of prayer was observed at Sts Peter and Paul Church, Lower Hutt. I went out late on the Friday night, I had hardly sat down and opened my little book of reflections and prayers when I read these words.

“Our Father, we have wandered and hidden from your face;

In foolishness have squandered your legacy of grace.”

I have been pondering ever since about how I have been using Lent and asking myself the question “have I squandered God’s grace? Am I squandering this time of renewal God has given me? This graced time of Lent? Have I realized that the Days are coming when God wants to write his law of love in my heart?

Jeremiah says “See, the days are coming” in some ways the response to that is found in Jesus words in the Gospel “now the hour has come.” “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” We know now that the way Jesus was glorified was to be lifted on the cross and then to be lifted up again in the glory and wonder of the Resurrection.

Jesus said:  “Now the hour has come

for the Son of Man to be glorified.

I tell you. Most solemnly

unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies,

it remains only a single grain;

but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”

Last year I happened to end up with several of those “little garden” pots from New World. Every $20 you spent you were given another one. I think they were really to get little children interested in gardening. I was like a little kid and had a whole lot of them. It was hard to think that what looked like a little piece of cardboard, and a couple of tiny dry looking seeds could actually produce flowers and fruit…I had tomatoes and sunflowers, sweet peas and Nasturtiums, kale and beetroot. And cucumber!

We all know that if you open a packet of seeds and find tiny looking withered pieces of matter that for all intents and purposes look dead. We know that if you plant at the right time, weed often, water frequently and have the right amount of sun, you will be blessed with a bumper crop to enjoy and share with family and friends, or to provide colour and scents in the garden.

Could it be that Jesus’ focus on the wheat seed falling to the ground and dying may have actually been on the process it takes to produce the fruit– to diligently prepare the soil, plant, water, weed and constantly tend to the seeds…….in order to produce the wheat!!

During our Lenten renewal, are we willing to be like garden seeds and risk being split apart so that we can renew ourselves and grow into a life rich with abundance to share with others? Are we willing to dedicate ourselves to growing our faith and our relationship with Christ so that we are not squandering God’s grace?

Equally as important, are we willing to let this be the time, let this be the hour for us …for God to nurture us, not by sun and water, but by His never-ending love and his promise to us each and every day?

“See, the days are coming” for God’s grace to enter our hearts.