Saturday, April 8, 2023

Meeting God in His Word: Homily for Easter Sunday 2023

Detail from 'The Resurrection of Christ', Andrea Mantegna, Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, Italy.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.

My dear brothers and sisters,

I would like to begin our reflection on this blessed Easter day with the penultimate line from the Gospel for today: “they did not yet understand the Scripture”. It has been my endeavour through these weeks of Lent to offer to you some ways in which we can understand scripture, by pointing out that the reason we look at the readings of the Old Testament is because Christ can be understood better only when we look at the New Testament in light of the Old. So that through the homilies I have proffered these past weeks, we can understand that it is not just the New Testament that speaks to us about Christ, but that the Old Testament does as well.

Everyone has a history, and a past – baggage as the hip might call it; and this history allows us to understand so much about them. So also, with Christ. Seeing how the Old Testament bears witness to Him and His concern for us, helps us understand Him that much better.

It is when we understand that His life on earth was already foreshadowed in the Old Testament, that He was the pillar of fire that went before the Israelites as they fled from Pharoah; that He was the Rock that provided waterfor them in the desert; He was the stream that watered the face of the Earth when it was empty; it is only then that we can understand the rich symbolism of Easter. How He is present in the Easter candle, He is present in the altar, and how above all, He is present in the Eucharist. He can be present in all these ways because through His death and resurrection, He is now the master of time and space. The science buffs among you will well understand this. Jesus Christ can be, and is, manifest in the past, the present, and the future, willingly able to move through time and place, and be really present in the Eucharist, the communion we receive, precisely because He has conquered death and was resurrected. He is not a prisoner of time, He is its master.

It is this mastery over time and space that also allows for “the word of God,” that is for Jesus, the Word made flesh, present in the scripture, to be as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Hebrews (4:12)

living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Jesus, the Christ, is able to touch us in a very physical, corporeal, visceral way, and this can happen not only through the Eucharist, which is a privileged point of contact, but also through scripture. It is for this reason that I urge you, brothers and sisters, to get to know the scripture more intimately, seeing how the two testaments speak to each other, and how Jesus can speak to you, touch you in the core of your heart, if you get to know the scripture more intimately.

I tell you this not from any bookish knowledge, from my years in the seminary, but from the time when I was far, far from it. I had started this practice, when I was still living what might be called a fairly colourful life, where the first thing I would do when I woke up, was to roll over and grab my smartphone, going not for social media, but for the daily lectionary. As time went on, I was able to see the way in which the readings interacted with each other, and before I knew it I could make out patterns, and gasp like I was discovering intimate secrets about a lover. Indeed, I look back fondly to those days because those mornings spent in bed with the lectionary were like time spent intimately engaging with a lover. All of us who have gone through it know the joys of first love, as our love grows the old, initial love is replaced, for something stronger, deeper, more mature, but we still look back with fondness, with saudades, to the heady rush of first love. On this Easter day, and for the rest of the year that follows, I wish for you this kind of an encounter for you, that you may “understand the scripture” for, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which [encounter] gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

Understanding the scripture, the word of God, which is His Spirit is important because it will guide us to be able to distinguish between the old yeast and the unleavened bread that St. Paul speaks about in his first letter to the Corinthians.

As St. Paul points out, we are the dough, and we must keep ourselves from being tainted by “the yeast of wickedness and malice”, so that we may become the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” In fact, St. Paul is sharper, he asks that we do away with the old yeast so that we may be completely new.

Brothers and sisters, our situation in contemporary Goa, and India, is like dough in a kitchen that is completely tainted by the yeast of wickedness and malice. Indeed, wickedness and malice have become the standards through which success is measured. It is all around us, and precisely because it is all around us we are all tainted by this wicked and malicious yeast. Not one of us is untainted by this yeast, and as St. Paul tells us, “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?”

There was a time when in Goa the distinction was between Catholics and non-Catholics. In many ways it was a Catholic morality that was dominant. And what a good thing it was. There was a moral clarity, as compared to the moral jugaad that is the norm today. Everything is negotiable and relative. I am not saying that Goan Catholics were saints, far from it, but there was a moral clarity by which people could be judged, by which we could judge ourselves.

This clarity that was so much a feature of the Goa of old did not emerge from some kind of imposition, nor indeed demographic dominance, but through the upright example offered by Catholics in their daily lives. Today, for the same Catholics, anything goes, the cornerstone that was Christ has been rejected.

I would at this point like to compliment the men in this assembly who have come to Mass dressed in a suit, a jacket, or a tie.  Through your dress you have underlined the fact that this is no ordinary day to be treated casually, but the greatest feast in the Christian calendar. You offer to those around you, clarity.

This clarity is abandoned today for the worship of fame, power, money, and above all by the worship of that great false goddess, the nation. As I have said before, the pursuit of none of these, fame, power, money, even work for the nation, is not bad, indeed, they could be very good, but when they are offered worship, worship that is due only to God, this is where things start going wrong.

How do we recover this moral clarity? Or in other words, how do we return to new, and full, life? The answer is a deep and genuine friendship with the Risen Christ. Go to Him in your love for His scripture, and He will reward you with His spirit which will animate your life. Go to Him regularly in the Eucharist and the scripture will act like the double-edged sword that St. Paul promises us that it is, cutting out that wicked and malicious yeast that allows for a cancerous morality to grow in all of us.

It is only when we do at least the two of these Christian actions that we will be able to be act like St. Peter and echo his words in the extract from the Acts of the Apostles today:

He commissioned us to preach to the people

and testify that he is the one appointed by God

as judge of the living and the dead.

To him all the prophets bear witness,

that everyone who believes in him

will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.

This Easter season let us commit ourselves to new lives, actively rejecting the yeast of malice and wickedness that fills our world, and in the process saving the world for Christ. May God bless you all in this noble endeavour, alleluia.

 (A version of this homily was first preached at the parish church of St.Thomas the Apostle, Aldona on 9 April 2023.)

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