Friday, April 7, 2023

They Are Happy Who Put All Their Trust in The Cross: First Homily for Good Friday 2023

File:16 Lorenzo Veneziano, Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning. 1370  Staatliche Museen, Berlin..jpg - Wikimedia Commons

'Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning', Lorenzo Veneziano, 1370, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

My dear brothers and sisters, the gospel for today offers us images that are more than we can bear. It offers us, not an idea, but a history, the fact that God, who became Man, a man who was without sin, died for us so that we may be rescued from death and sin. And he did not die a quick, painless death, but he died a most horrible, painful, humiliating death on the cross, not just physically suffering the tortures meted out to him, but also suffering mentally, from abandonment by his friends, betrayal by one disciple, denial by another, by insults and taunting.

On this solemn day, where through His Passion Our Lord offers us so much, I would like to reflect on the denial of Peter, and its implications for our lives.

The first denial was when Peter told “the maid who was the gatekeeper” when she identified him as one of Jesus’ disciples, that he was not one of them. The second when he denied that he was one of the disciples to the group warming themselves by the fire, and the third when one of the relatives of Malchus, the man whose ear Peter cut off in the garden, recognised him as with Jesus in the garden.

Peter denied Jesus three times. In the Bible, the number three is significant.  It represents fullness, and completeness. There are three persons to the Trinity, Christ received three gifts at his birth, He fell three times on His way to Calvary, there were three days that Christ spent in the tomb, imitating the angels we acclaim God in the Sanctus three times. One could go on, and on. To deny Jesus three times, therefore, is to symbolically deny him completely, fully and absolutely. How much further could Peter have fallen?

With this focus on Peter’s denial of His Saviour, it is worth asking the question, how have we denied Jesus?

I would like to give you an example from my own life. In this case I was in Panjim with a friend, and dressed as I normally am, black trousers, white shirt with clerical collar. The friend, also a Catholic, had some work to do at an insurance office and while we were headed indicated that I need not come. Oh, I’ll come along and just sit quietly in a corner I indicated. No, they insisted, they would go alone. It took me a while to understand that they did not want me there because I was visibly dressed like a Catholic priest (or ordained minister) and they did not want to be identified as Catholic when they went to the office.

As you can imagine I was furious. First, I felt personally rejected, and secondly, and more importantly, I realised that they were embarrassed, or scared, of their Catholic identity. In other words, they wished to deny Christ so that they could get their work done. This was more than I could bear.

This is not a unique case. There are a number of Catholics who have been doing this for decades now.

In the context of Hindutva/Hindu nationalism, we have been making choices about the names we give our children. No longer are they the names of saints, or European names, but they are often what we call “Indian names” but in fact are Hindu names. Then there is the way we hide signs of our faith. One resident of this village shared with me that they do not like processions. They did not say why, but I can guess; because it is a public display of our faith, and this display is increasingly uncomfortable for people who would like to stay undercover as much as possible. They would rather, like the proverbial ostrich, stick their heads in the sand, and hide until the Hindutva threat passes. Others, imitating the Konkani proverd “mui zaim sakor khaunk zai”, think that if they bend to the establishment, work with it, then can harvest some goodies with which to feather their nests.

There are others, who are happy to think of Christ as one God among others. In their opinion, we can be Christian, AND celebrate other local deities saying “after all, our ancestors were Hindu”. There is no need to attack the religion of others, but, when we fall short of our duty and obligation to preach Jesus to the world, like Peter, we are guilty of denying Jesus.

Let me assure you, my dear brothers and sisters, that each one of these examples is a denial of Jesus, very similar to the denial of Peter. Unfortunately, these denials may be worse that Peter’s because while Peter repented, in most cases, as Fr. Ramiro Luis pointed out on Palm Sunday, we justify our denial, we explain it, and we say, that God will understand.

No, my brothers and sisters, God will not understand, because you are called to live your faith by proclaiming it, no matter how turbulent the social situation may be. As St. Peter teaches us in his first letter, “you know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold,  but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18-19). Deny Christ and you are guilty of not valuing the blood he shed in ransoming you. It is when you proclaim your faith, no matter the consequences that you become a saint, and remember, that there is only space for saints in heaven.

But there is another way in which we deny Christ. And this is in our mediocrity.

I hate to say it, but by and large we in Goa are so comfortable in our mediocrity, in our lukewarm attitudes to most thinks. No big goals, big ambitions, doing things better, improving every day. No, we are happy and satisfied with our small little lives and goals, and ambitions. “You are the light of the world”, Christ tells us, but instead of placing our light on the hill, where it can be seen by all, we place our light under a bowl (Matthew 5:14-16).

One of the guiding parables in my life has been the parable of the talents (Matthew25:14-30), where the lazy servant, (i.e. us) returns to the master (i.e. God) the talents that have been given to him. Will I be able to face God at the end of my life, at the time of my judgement, and tell him that I am returning to him what he gave me without multiplying it? His anger will be terrible if I did so and I live in fear of that judgement. As God tells us in the book of Revelations (3:15-16) “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” I do not want to be spat out of the mouth of God to be swallowed by Satan and his minions and dispatched to the darkness of hell.

To support my argument I would like to quote to you a phrase from the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians which has also influenced me: “you are not your own? For you were bought with a price (the precious blood of the lamb), therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor 6: 19-20).

We Goans were not always like this. There was a time, when villages like Aldona shone like lighthouses. And it is because of the way we shone that so many non-Goans are buying property here to live in it. The beauty of Aldona, as I have said before, is not natural, it is the result of generations of good Catholics, living beautiful Catholic lives. Honest, hard-working, ambitious and faithful to their God. The beauty of Aldona, is the result of the precious blood of Christ which were sown in this ground and yielded a plentiful harvest. 

Today, however, by and large, we deny Christ, mostly through our mediocrity, our lukewarmness. And the impact is not just on our lives, worse, it is on the society we live in. If Goa is becoming worse and worse, it is because the Catholic in Goa has stopped loving Jesus with all his heart, soul, strength and mind. Not only are we often mediocre, we prefer to follow those who worship power and wealth – the gods of contemporary India. As a result of this half-hearted following of Christ, we are failing in our potential to show those around us that our faith animates us in our entire lives and makes us shine like the sun.

Human beings are imitators by nature, my dear brothers and sisters, and if those around us see us shine, they will want to be like us, in our behaviour, and in our faith. St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have said, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” My question for us, my dear brothers and sisters, is this, are we preaching Jesus with our lives, or are we denying him through the mediocrity of our lives, or by imitating those who pursue only wealth and power?

But there is hope! Remember, despite the fullness of Peter’s denial, Jesus forgives him. Jesus understands, and he will forgive us too, but only if we repent our actions. This repentance, however, does not simply come from our own will and desire, it comes as a grace from God. It comes as a grace because God wants that we should be saved so that the precious blood of His Son should have been spilled in vain.

How do we obtain this grace? By looking at Peter, who denied, repented, and then threw himself into being the rock on which the Church endures. We too can be a part of this rock, if only with faith in the cross, we throw ourselves into the waters of life, and preach Christ always, in our words, and in our actions.

So let us return to our homes today, repeating, over and over again, and believing, that:

They are happy who, putting all their trust in the Cross, plunge into the waters of life.

(A version of this homily was first preached on Good Friday, 7 April 2023 at the parish church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Aldona in Concanim).

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