(Here is the reading today from the office of readings, an ancient homily for Holy Saturday. Fr. Paul quoted it during his Good Friday homily on April 2, 2010. Liturgically speaking, Holy Saturday is the quietest day of the year- the time between Jesus’ death, and his resurrection which takes place at the Easter Vigil, technically Easter Sunday. It can be found on the Vatican Website.)
“What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.
The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.
‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”
I want you to join me in looking at the crucifix. Last Sunday we celebrated Christ the King. Father Paul spoke to us about the inscription above Jesus’ head: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” You know, when we look at him up there, he doesn’t look terribly impressive. In comparison to the rulers we’re more familiar with. He’s barely dressed – no shoes – not even sandals. He’s too skinny for us to believe that he dined in elegance each night. Our King!
You all know about Queen Elizabeth II. She has a special role for us in Canada. She owns vast amounts of property and is one of the richest women in the world. She receives tens of millions of pounds each year from the people of Great Britain. Now the people of Great Britain have had a rough time over the past couple of years with the world-wide financial crisis. Queen Elizabeth still made tens of millions of pounds each year. I’m not saying if that’s fair or not. The Queen’s position requires a number of costly activities. And I would guess that many people in Great Britain feel that the Queen should not have to suffer like the rest of the people in Britain – after all, she’s different.
Ferdinand Marcos was the President of the Philippines. He accumulated a vast fortune, and there were many who said that his fortune came dishonestly from public funds. The Philippines is a poor country, but Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda were wealthy beyond belief. We have all heard of Imelda Marcos’ collection of nearly 3,000 pairs of shoes. The life of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos bore little resemblance to the lives of their people
The Sultan of Brunei is the head of state and head of government of Brunei, a small country on the north coast of the island of Borneo. He’s estimated to be worth more than 22 billion dollars. His palace has more than two million square feet of living space. While the standard of living in Brunei is thought to be one of the highest in Asia, few of his people could afford the estimated $15,000 that the Sultan once paid for a haircut. It’s said that he has entire walls in his palace that are covered with gold. The Sultan’s brother has been accused of misappropriating 16 billion dollars of government money – the people’s money. Both the Sultan and his brother have lifestyles that are opulent and excessive beyond anything imaginable by their people.
So we have a queen, a president, and a sultan. I’m not putting them all in the same moral or ethical category. So please, if you’re a fan of the Queen, I’m not being critical. But it’s clear that these earthly royals are separated from their people in very important ways.
Now focus again on our King. As Father Paul told us last week, Jesus is the King of the universe. Everything that’s controlled by the Queen or the Sultan of Brunei – everything that was controlled by Ferdinand Marcos was created by our King. And yet, he chose NOT to remain separated from us. Rather, he chose to enter fully into the human condition. Look at him hanging on the cross. Who could say that he didn’t experience human suffering?
This is why we celebrate Advent each year. This is why, each year, we anticipate the coming of our King as if he were entering the world as a human person for the first time, as he did more than 2,000 years ago. God, our Creator, chose to become one of us.
Now why did he make this choice? Well, it was my fault – and it was Adam’s fault – and it was Eve’s fault – and it was your fault. Because we sinned against God, the most perfect, kind, and loving being in the universe, it was necessary for God to save us. He did this through Jesus.
We look forward to his arrival among us not in a two million square foot palace, but in a stable – not attended by an army of doctors, but by some farm animals and a couple of shepherds. This is how he came into the world, and we see on the cross how he left. Not rich – not powerful – not impressive in a worldly sense, but overwhelming when we understand who this baby is lying in the straw – who this man is hanging on the cross. The Gospel today tells us that when he comes again, things will be very different: “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.” Yes, things will be different.
I said a moment ago that God chose to enter the world as a human person because we sinned. We hear about sin throughout the Bible. I did an electronic search of the word “sin” in our version of the Bible, hoping that I could count them up and give you the number. It would have taken too much time to total all the hits – it’s in the hundreds. With all that talk of sin, and with an understanding that it was our sins that brought Jesus into our lowly human condition, we must ask ourselves: “Are we bad people?”
In his first talk in the “Nothing More Beautiful” series, Archbishop Smith dealt with the very important question of whether we are bad people. His response was emphatic and simple: “No.” He went on to explain: “We have been created in the image and likeness of God. God alone is our Creator, and he has fashioned us for himself. The Church teaches, therefore, that the human person is essentially good. But ours is a fragile goodness, due to the effects within us of the original sin. We are called to be holy, but we are weak and vulnerable, unable to attain to holiness on our own.”
He continued, and his words speak to our experience of Advent: “From the heart of the Father [Jesus] has come to the world. He has come to those who have been fashioned in the image and likeness of God and thus called to a communion of love with God. He has come to those in whom this image has become disfigured by sin, so that the image might be restored to its beauty.”
And so, in this season of Advent, we wait patiently for the coming of our King. He will come to save us. He will come to connect with the image and likeness of God that’s inside all of us. His coming as our Saviour confirms our fundamental goodness. But he will be a ruler unlike any of the earthly rulers we know – a King who will be fully immersed in the human condition: no pomp, no circumstance. To quote Archbishop Smith: “There is nothing more beautiful than this.”
A couple of weeks ago, Father Paul mentioned that he and I would be talking to you about Archbishop Smith’s first address in the “Nothing More Beautiful” series. Two weeks ago, Fr. Paul used the readings on marriage to talk about Archbishop Smith’s discussion of the image and likeness of God. Today, I will speak about the first part of Archbishop Smith’s talk, so it’s a bit backward.
The first words Archbishop Smith used to introduce the entire “Nothing More Beautiful” series were taken from Pope John Paul II. They were a bit confusing for me the first few times I read them, so I’ll say them twice: “Jesus Christ is the answer to the question that is every human life.” “Jesus Christ is the answer to the question that is every human life.” You know, it’s one of those statements that sounds like it must be true, but it’s hard to figure out just what it means. The Archbishop must have understood that, because he continued by reading a story from John’s Gospel (John 1:35-42): “The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah.’ Then he brought Simon to Jesus.”
It’s kind of a funny exchange between Jesus and these two disciples of John the Baptist. They didn’t know Jesus, but they just started following him. And when Jesus turned around, he didn’t say: “Hey, why are you guys following me?” He said: “What are you looking for?” Now, I think they must have been confused by the question, because they didn’t really answer it. All they said was: “Where are you staying?” And when Jesus said: “Come and see,” he was saying that he would answer their question about where he was staying, but he would also answer his own question about what they were looking for. During the time he spent with them (the reading says “they remained with him that day”), he showed them what they were looking for – the deepest desire of their hearts – they were looking for Jesus. And they were so convinced that Jesus was the answer to their question that one of them – Andrew – rushed to tell his brother Simon Peter that they had found the Messiah. And we know that they dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus – not just for an afternoon, but forever. That must have been an amazing visit.
What are you looking for? What is the deepest desire of your heart? When I ask you that question here, the answer is pretty obvious. We see our Saviour hanging on the cross. We see the altar where he will become present in the bread and wine. But I think the question is still worth asking: what are you looking for? Why are you here? Are you here because you have to be – because it’s one of the commandments? Are you here because it’s important to give your children or grandchildren a good example, or because your parents or grandparents made you come? Are you here because your friends are here, and it feels good being with your friends? All of these are good reasons.
Or are you here because the deepest desire of your heart is to have a profound and life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ? The sort of encounter that Andrew and the other disciple had in the reading from John’s Gospel – the sort of encounter that will affect us in all parts of our lives.
Well let’s think about that. Let me change the question a little bit. Most of us are only here in church for an hour or so each week. You spend a lot of time at home, at school, at work. What are you looking for there? What are the deepest desires of your heart at home, at school, at work? When we’re at work, we have to think about sales, service, productivity, profit, growth – and that’s good and important – but is that all? When we’re at school we have to think about assignments, tests, friends, popularity, fashion – but is that all?
Can you imagine getting ready for work in the morning and saying: “Today at work, I want to have a profound encounter with Jesus Christ?” Can you imagine getting ready for school and saying: “Today at school, I want to have a profound encounter with Jesus Christ?” You know that we can see Jesus in our co-workers, in our clients and customers, in our fellow students, in our teachers. But we can also be Jesus to all of those people. We can be that life-changing answer to the questions in the hearts of everyone we meet.
This is the ultimate goal of the Archbishop’s plan – that we will bring the beauty of Jesus to everyone we meet. But in his wisdom, he understands that we must first re-acquaint ourselves with Jesus. We have to open ourselves to a fresh, new encounter that will make us change – will make us different.
Well, how do we do that? That’s always the hard part. I put a couple of questions in the Bulletin related to this issue and asked you to consider them. I asked you to think about the main goals in your life, and asked if you have a goal that relates to your relationship with God. I asked you to think about a life where you’ve accomplished all or most of your material goals and whether that would be satisfying if you didn’t have a strong relationship with God – or would you be left saying: “Is that all there is?” Miguel will be leading a discussion Monday/ tomorrow night at 7:00 to talk about those questions and others that you may have. I encourage you to be there.
Pope Benedict said: “There is nothing more beautiful than knowing Jesus Christ and telling others of our friendship with him.” Archbishop Smith is urging us to have a new encounter with Jesus – to ask ourselves what it is we’re looking for – to accept the invitation of Jesus to “come and see.” And he does this knowing that through this encounter we will find that Jesus is, indeed, the answer to the question that is every human life.
This Scripturefest gathering occurs at a time when we are intensifying our preparations for the second year of our Nothing More Beautiful initiative. Let us recall the purpose of NMB – evangelization. Evangelization has as its goal conversion – first conversion for those who have not yet heard the Gospel, and ongoing conversion for those who have long heard it and sought to live in accordance with it. Conversion is lifelong, and as we rediscover again the beauty of the Gospel we can expect to be confronted by its truth and its consequent challenge to all that is false or complacent in our lives. When we read and hear the Word, its ability to get to the truth of things, to penetrate our hearts and call us deeper becomes quickly clear. This is what is happening in the Scripture readings for this Mass. The readings and the liturgical
feast in which they are proclaimed cut to the heart of our lives of discipleship with a rather riveting question: are you ready to die
for the Gospel?
Are you ready to die for the Gospel? Nothing is more important to us than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing is more beautiful. Therefore we desire with all of our hearts to make known to the world Him whom the prophets had long foretold would save the world, Him who has fulfilled that prophecy by his dying and rising and his abiding presence in the Church and world through His Holy Spirit. Making Christ known is our mission and the very reason for our existence. But making him known involves death. Are you ready to die for the Gospel?
We honour today the Canadian martyrs, by whose death the Gospel first began to take root and spread here in North America. They are among the countless hosts of martyrs described in the reading from Revelation, the martyrs who gave their life that Christ might be known, and who now live in the presence of the Lamb of God, whose death on earth for the life of the world was the foundation and pattern of their own. They accepted, first, the possibility, then the reality of death, because they lived from that teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel that
discipleship means taking up the cross in imitation of their Lord, and that it is only by losing life for his sake that we will actually find life.
These words of Jesus and the example of those who met death by making him known lead inescapably to the question that each of us must answer: are you ready to die for the Gospel? When the cross was planted on Canadian soil by Sts. Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and their companions, it cost them their lives. Today there needs to be a new implantation of the Cross of Christ in our country, which in so many ways has grown allergic to the Gospel. For us, too, it will cost us our lives, not likely in the same way as being put to death, but the cost will nonetheless be real. Where we need to plant the cross is very deep in the soil of our hearts. This means learning to view all of our reality through the prism of the Cross; it means making all of life’s decisions in the light of the Cross. This leads to death; a death to self. Embracing the Cross, or better, allowing it to embrace us, means dying to all that is of self and not of God, to all that is selfish and self-absorbed so as to be alive for God and others. Our country is witnessing the opposite of this way of life. What is becoming more and more prevalent is the sacrifice of the common good for the sake of individual wants and desires. This is the case with abortion, some would want it to be so regarding euthanasia and physician assisted suicide, it happened with the redefinition of marriage and it occurs whenever people are so caught up in their own materialist and consumerist pursuits that they are not aware of the needs of the poor, here and elsewhere, and hence neglect to make the sacrifices that can restore the balance and improve the lives of their brothers and sisters.
Are you ready to die for the Gospel? St. Paul in the second reading reminds us of a wondrous truth: through our death, Jesus becomes visible. We want him to be visible, seen; we want him to be known, we want him to be loved, and we want him to be followed so that the world might
know the life and joy he intends for every person. Our desire springs from the treasure within us. That treasure is the gift of faith; the gift of an unshakeable conviction, rooted in our personal encounter with Christ, of the love and mercy of God. We want that conviction to be known and shared by others, and so we embrace death, a death to self, as did the martyrs we honour today, for the sake of our Lord and his Gospel. Weak clay vessels that we are, we cannot do so without the help of God. Let us pray, then, that our celebration of the Eucharist will
renew and deepen our encounter with Christ, implant more deeply the Cross and its beauty within our hearts, and enable us to say “yes” to the question we cannot avoid: are you ready to die for the Gospel?
Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
September 26th, 2009