SERMON (1) ON CHRIST AS FRIEND
The three Rs
On our pilgrimage we have reflected on the importance of our baptism by renewing our baptismal promises; we have reflected on our Lady’s Assumption, which is our destiny too, ultimately; we have celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and today we reflect on ‘vocation’.
I recently had the rare privilege of baptizing one of my nieces. Strange as it may sound, not only is she my niece, but in baptizing her she became my sister!
St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that baptism in Christ removes all ethnic, racial and social distinction – we are all one in Christ and equal in dignity. We become one family as adopted sons and daughters of God the Father and we become BASIC = Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
This sense of our unique value, dignity and worth is something we need to reflect on and a pilgrimage allows us time out to do so. We should allow no-one trample on our dignity. There are times when we are made feel worthless, undervalued and irrelevant. We may feel these things readily anyway, but others are quite willing to put us down there. We may struggle for a long time with confidence and self-esteem, but only in Christ can we begin to feel or experience either.
We need to remind ourselves that we are irreplaceable, unique individuals, are people of worth who are unconditionally loved by God. We have to tap into that well of love which is the Holy Spirit; and we tap into this great reservoir by prayer.
It is only when we have made this decisive step that something strange and unexpected happens, slowly but surely – we recognise that indeed we are all alike in this respect. If God has created me to know love Him and serve Him in this life then He has created others – indeed everyone to share in this common calling. Indeed I must therefore recognize this value dignity and worth of everyone around me (even if they are unaware of this fact for themselves).
We are in baptism all members of one body, mutually dependent on each other. No part of this Body is insignificant. To paraphrase Pope Benedict: ‘each of us is willed by God, each of us is loved by Him, each one of us is necessary.’
If you injure one part of your body through a cut, a bruise, a break, we often say ‘I injured myself’. Your ‘self’ has nothing to do with it, you could argue, but it is true! When a part of the body is injured, the rest of the body compensates and comes to the rescue of the body to help out. Indeed invisibly the immune system and circulatory system sends nutrients, chemical pain killers etc to the injury, and drains away the waste and dirt. So it is that the members of the Body of Christ bring healing and reparation (repair) in Christ.
This forms the basis of why Our Lady came to Fatima. She asked the children, and asked the world through them, to convert Russia, and world peace. She could have gone to Russia, but instead was sent by God when to another part of the Body of Christ – Portugal – to ask the children and us to convert Russia through our prayer, penance and personal reform. In this way, the Body of Christ is helped and repaired and healed.
One final point – we all share in a common mission, and in the Spirit have different gifts and callings. The disciples are sent from place to place to spread the Good News of the Kingdom; others through the generous support and hospitality support that one mission.
Maybe three ‘R’ words can help to sum up what I have been saying:
My we Rejoice in our dignity;
May we Recognise the dignity of others;
May we Respond to God’s will and call to build up His Body, the Church.
Christ with us on the way
The theme of our pilgrimage is Christ be beside me. This is not merely a wish, prayer or a desire; it is also a reality.
I remember teaching Leaving Cert boys about the heart, a topic they liked because they could carry out a dissection! Each year they would express their disappointment and their surprise that the heart was not a Valentine shape! But one boy remarked that ‘it is like there’s a piece missing!’
That comment has remained with me all these years. He was right; there is a piece missing. The human heart was made to love and to be loved. We are not filled or fulfilled until we have learned the meaning of love and that we are loved in return.
It is a great blessing to find a friend, a faithful person who we can confide in, trust, depend upon, who accepts us, who listens, is compassionate, someone who you can laugh or cry with.
We can rely on a friend, and they can rely on us. It is mutual. Friends spend time together, share fears, worries and anxieties, in an atmosphere of trust and loving concern.
It will be different for all of us: for those who are called to marriage, this friendship is exclusively spousal, for priests and religious it is friendship with Christ; for single people it is friendships. But often we make friends outside of immediate family.
Yet whatever friendship we have, is only a shadow (like the hymn) of the friendship Christ wants to share with us. That friendly relationship is called prayer, or a prayer-life.
We can go further. Sometimes we need to listen and reflect on what a friend may be advising us. There may be friendly, helpful, careful correction. We need also their second opinion on certain matters. This is where we can apply these rules of friendship to the Gospel. Christ our companion and friend who walks with us wants us to listen to His words and teachings on the Gospel.
The leper rejoiced and became a disciple at the feet of Jesus, like Mary and the disciples at his feet. The ten lepers were healed but only one became a true follower. Because he was grateful, he drew closer.
Of course love is two-way. It is not about receiving love but loving generously, prepared to give time and make sacrifices.
It is up to each one of us to develop and cultivate this relationship with Christ. It is a personal decision we have to make on our own. One day we shall meet Christ face to face, alone. We need to be comfortable with that fact.
We need to close the distances that may have arisen from time to time in our relationship with Christ. Like the many encounters in the Gospels Christ waits for an opportunity, an opening.
Pope John Paul II used one phrase quite often, from Vatican II, that ‘Christ fully reveals man to himself’. We think of the woman at the well or the rich young man, who Christ called and challenged and who knew their inner hearts. Our encounter with Christ may not be as challenging or as dramatic, but it needs to happen. Christ knows us but he can also help us to see us as we really are. Christ invites His followers – us - to ‘come’. That word COME can be an acronym for the words ‘Christ offers me everything’ or 'Christ offers me eternity’.
Christ is there for us. He is on the road. We think of the Footprints passage that reminds us of the one set of footprints for the difficult times Christ carried us. He has always been there for us even if we have not been aware of it or if we have ignored Him. He is with us right now, and there is no longer any reason to be afraid, because He is constant – He will be there in whatever lies ahead.
‘Christ yesterday, today and forever.’
Christ nourishes us
How often do we meet a friend for coffee, lunch or dinner? The food or the places are considerations but only because we want to treat our friend or find a place where we can comfortably talk. Sometimes we deliberately choose a place where we can have a more private conversation. In recent years cafes have enjoyed great popularity as places to meet.
This year the Church celebrates the Year of St Luke – the Gospel according to Luke is read most Sundays of this year. One of the things we notice in Luke is Jesus’ willingness to share a meal with everyone! There are at least 12 occasions where Jesus is sharing a meal – Simon’s mother –in-law’s house; at the house of sinners and tax collectors’; twice at the homes of Pharisees; with Martha and Mary; the multiplication of loaves and fish; with the women disciples who provided hospitality and support; at the home of Zacchaeus; at the Passover; at Emmaus; and even eating grilled fish after the Resurrection. Clearly sharing a meal provides opportunities to practice hospitality, and generosity as well as developing friendships and getting to know one another a bit better. Jesus also used these occasions for divine teaching.
It is worth noting that the word ‘companion’ comes from the words ‘ cum panis’ – the Latin for ‘breaking bread with’. We eat with a companion. [We also drink together and ‘drink to something’ as befits the occasion.]
Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread which of course includes the Bread of Life.
There are perhaps six ways of looking at the Mass
(1) Communion – intimacy – not only are we spending time with him over a banquet - He is the source of nourishment. This sacred banquet of the mass or the Eucharist is where we are nourished at the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist. There are two courses, as it were! We are not only fed, but we are nourished and sustained. We are eating the right things! We are fed by Christ’s Body and Blood, by the Host himself! We are intimate with Him, there is a oneness in Holy Communion, which only makes sense when we are reconciled with Him.
(2) Remembrance gift- just as we have keepsakes and mementoes in our homes, this parting gift of Christ is Himself in the Eucharist.
(3) Commemoration -We are not only commemorating, restoring or sealing our friendship we are commemorating and re-presenting the great rescue of our Redemption. He said ‘do this in remembrance of me.’
(4) Proclamation – this is our emancipation proclamation – we are proclaiming the death of the Lord’ every time we celebrate Mass. We also want it to be known that He is risen. It is ‘the mystery of our faith.’
(5) Pledge – it is a promise of what will be and what that our friendship will last forever. As we think of the three shepherd children united once more in heaven, we think of the unity Christ promises us all in everlasting life. The Mass is the promise of immortality. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood HAS eternal life ad I will raise them up on the last day.
(6) Mission - As we are strengthened and renewed so we are called to go forth and continue the mission of evangelization and example, of charity. To ‘love one another’.