Keeping our gaze fixed on Jesus
Early in Lent every year, in fact on the Second Sunday, we always have one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Transfiguration.
This was the time that Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain and gave them a glimpse of his divinity - his glory as the Son of God. For these three, and everyone in fact, only the ‘man-side’ of Jesus was visible. For a brief intense few moments these Apostles had an experience of the ‘God-side’ of Jesus.
Mark tells us in his Gospel that it was these same three - Peter, James and John that Jesus took with him right in to the garden of Gethsemane. It seems they were able to witness him in his terrible agony. Jesus wanted to let them know, that even in the pain and human suffering of his agony, there was more to him. He was also the Son of God among us. Even if they forgot this at the time, they would eventually remember the experience of Jesus’ Transfiguration and share it with us.
The Church always, as I said, puts the Transfiguration before us early in Lent. As we strive to follow Christ more closely in Lent we can say that Lent is a struggle. Life is a struggle also. The Church therefore puts before us the Glory of God’s Son to remind us that we are never alone in the struggle. Jesus who struggled, is with us. Jesus the powerful Son of God also strengthens us.
Pope Francis recalling Jesus being severely tested in his forty days in the desert, said that Lent was a time of spiritual combat. We can say that life can also be described as a combat. In Lent, and therefore in life, it is so important to keep our gaze fixed upon Easter - upon our gloriously Risen Lord.
To quote the words of Pope Francis as he describes Lent, “Lent is a spiritual combat against a spirit of evil. While we cross the ‘Lenten desert’ we have our gaze fixed upon Easter, which is the definitive victory of Jesus against evil, the evil one, against sin and against death.” This holds true for our journey of life as well.
It’s so wonderful to come to and celebrate Easter after Lent. Each Sunday is also a celebration of Easter. This is the core of our Faith. St Paul said, “…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain”. (1Cor15:14)
Whenever we celebrate Easter or recall it in Faith, we are keeping our gaze fixed on Jesus, our Glorified Lord.
Jesus risen from the dead means that he is not only alive, but also that he lives with us - each moment of each day.
With his presence Jesus brings his power and strength. And don’t we need it! Easter doesn’t mean there is no more suffering, no more struggle, no more combat, no more Cross. That’s all still there for us, however our Risen Lord is there as well.
St Paul speaks of the wonderful balance that Jesus offers us. He wrote, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”. (Phil 3:10)
We need to reflect on and contemplate this throughout life. Pope St John Paull II spoke of it as “Contemplating the face of Christ”. It is obvious that he often did that himself in prayer.
Using our imagination in prayer is so human and so fruitful as St Ignatius of Loyola would teach us. So in our imagination, mind and Faith let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We can do that in prayer, as we focus on any stage or situation in Jesus’ life. It would be most important however to contemplate Jesus on the Cross as well as Jesus Risen - the Easter event. Easter is the most important event in the whole of our human history. It has the most far reaching consequences.
My sister, Dorina, a Josephite Sister, kept her gaze fixed on Jesus throughout her life in various ways. One way was by saying the following prayer whenever she ended a time of prayer, especially when leaving the Chapel. “I leave you now dear Jesus, but I am not without you; as I go to live, suffer, die and eventually rise with you. Amen.”
The Joy of Christmas
The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ. In fact I have heard it put more beautifully and powerfully as the Good News which is Jesus Christ.
Now Pope Francis has highlighted through his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (and even more by his life) that there is Joy in the Gospel - and that the Gospel brings joy.
This joy began with Christmas. It was there right at the beginning of the Incarnation of the Son of God as Jesus Christ.
The Annunciation, the communication of the Angel Gabriel to Mary, was indeed a joyful message. “Rejoice so highly favoured” (Lk 1:28) was the beginning of this world changing message and event.
The visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth was the occasion of immense joy. It brought joy to John the Baptist “For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy” (Lk 1:44). This describes simply yet dramatically the joy and excitement experienced when someone truly encounters Jesus. No doubt this was true for Elizabeth as it was for John the Baptist.
Mary then bursts into a joyful prayer and praise of God which begins with, “My soul proclaims to the greatness of the Lord and my Spirit exults in God my Saviour…” (Lk 1:47). The Son of God brought indescribable joy to her as she welcomed the great privilege of becoming his mother.
At Jesus’ Bethlehem birth, the angels joyfully sang “Glory to God in the highest and peace to people who enjoy his favour” (Lk 2:14). Why? It was because one of the angels had just announced “….I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord”. (Lk 2:10-11)
The Shepherds, the outcasts of society were the first to visit this Saviour. We can imagine their amazement and joy when going into the cave or stable they found “…Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger….it was exactly as they had been told” (Lk 2:16-17)
The wise men undertook a lengthy journey into the unknown because they wanted to meet and happily bring special gifts to “..the infant King of the Jews” (Mt2:2).
All this joy and excitement and wonder comes from searching for, and closely encountering Jesus. It is true today for us and for all the innumerable people down through 2000 years as it was for these first people.
The joy of the Incarnation and encountering Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, influenced Gabriel and the angels as messengers of God. It impacted Mary as she embraced her vocation of being Jesus’ mother. It inspired John the Baptist to carry out his mission to lead people to Christ, the promised Messiah. I am sure it would have changed the lives of the Shepherds and likewise the Magi.
For all of these people this joyful encounter lead to wonder and awe and praise of God. In various ways it also lead them to share the Good News of Jesus with others.
Pope Francis writes so much about this in Evangelii Gaudium. All I can do here is offer a few quotes and invite you to perhaps get the document, and if you haven’t done already, read it.
‘The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus’. [EG 1]
‘I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter him; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think this invitation is not meant for him or her, since as Pope Paul VI has said “No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk… ‘ [EG 3]
‘For if we have received the love that restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?’ [EG 8]
May this day, this season of Christmas, and this time of preparation, lead us to encounter Jesus more deeply. May it increase our Joy and Praise of God. May it lead us, through the witness of our daily lives, to share this Good and Joyful News.
In recent weeks I have been on my Visitation and Confirmation Round of the Pilbara, and on my return I moved straight into our Diocesan Evangelisation Conference that is being reported on in this issue.
It is amazing how when things like this Conference are on your mind and in your prayer, you notice the good things that are happening around the Diocese in regard to sharing the ‘joy’ of the Gospel.
One such example is of a woman and her lively children - a 3yr old girl and a 2yr old boy.
During my week in her Parish, Mum was able to bring these children to a couple of evening weekday Masses. On entering the church she had taught them to go up closer to the tabernacle and say ‘Hi’ to Jesus. The girl leads the way and bows to the tabernacle, followed dutifully and enthusiastically by her brother - with a very quick bow - before racing back to Mum.
The Pastoral Associate Sister had also observed this. As she takes Scripture classes and prepares children for the Sacraments, at times she gathers them in an area towards the back of the church. As they come into the church Sister has also encouraged the children to go to the tabernacle to say ‘Hi’ to Jesus before they join the group.
These two children have a German father. Recently they visited Germany to be with their relatives there. At meals the children would not start until they had said grace - in German!
As I spoke to the mother about these things, she said, “They are my little evangelisers”. That family and those children are certainly sharing the Good News in ordinary ways.
Who are called to evangelise?
Pope Francis in paragraph 119 and 120 of his Apostolic Exultation Evangelii Gaudium (‘The joy of the Gospel’) says that EVERYONE is.
“In all the baptised, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelisation”. “In virtue of their baptism all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples” (cf Matt28:19) “…..every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelisation; indeed anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus…”.
Pope Francis says we are called to bring the Good News everywhere. In Matthew we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that Faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth (EG Para 19) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”. (Mt 28:19-20)
A personal encounter with Jesus is so important. “The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (EG Para 1). “I invite all Christians everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or even an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (EG Para 3). “The primary reason for evangelising is the love of Jesus which we have received….what kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known”. (EG Para 264)
Reading and reflecting on the document will give us the answer to this. I also believe though that with this personal encounter with Jesus, the Holy Spirit will reveal some of that ‘how’.
I return to the family I spoke of. The parents are sharing the love of Jesus with those young children. They in turn have already shared it in simple ways with other children in the Parish and even with people overseas at meal times.
Yes everyone can do it, in so many ways and wherever people find themselves. Critical to this is the daily encounter and growing relationship with Jesus.
As I approached and celebrated my Golden Jubilee of Priesthood on the 29th of June, so many thoughts filled my mind and various feelings rose in my heart.
The uppermost feeling is one of joyful gratitude to God and so many people through whom he has worked over the course of 50 years and more.
For a long time now I have appreciated that a Priest does not just appear from nowhere. To be a good Priest requires that one must be a good human being first. Then one must be a good Christian - someone who appreciates and lives one’s Baptism. On these two very important foundations is then laid the Call to be a Priest.
Firstly then I give thanks to God, especially for my parents and family, who not only gave me the precious gift of life, but also the vital gift of love together with a strong Faith in God. This Faith was centred in Jesus and inserted me firmly into the Church in my early years in New Norcia.
Many others shared love and Faith with me in the schools and communities I grew up in - too numerous to list here. For these I give thanks.
Then came the unspeakable gift of the Priesthood in Genoa. For this I give thanks also, as well as for all the Staff of the two seminaries at St Charles, Guildford, and Brignole-Sale, Genoa. Their efforts were always accompanied by the support, love and prayers of family and so many friends of our Church.
BISHOP JUSTIN’S EASTER MESSAGE 2014
Conquering Sin and Evil?
Evil has always been a problem - and caused problems down through the course of history.
At times we can give reasons for it. Someone sent me a cartoon recently. It was of a young man sitting with Jesus on a park bench. The young man said “So why do you allow things like famine, war, suffering, disease, crime, homelessness, despair etc. to exist in our world?” Jesus answered, “Interesting that you should bring that up as I was about to ask you the exact same question?”
Other times we certainly cannot give reasons for it. At such times the problem of evil becomes a mystery for us.
Our Faith can be shaken too. It comes down to the fundamental problem that God does not live up to ‘my’ expectations. The true God should: prevent natural disasters (e.g. cyclones, earthquakes), quickly straighten out injustices, eliminate sickness and suffering and finally protect everyone from accidents, especially children. If God is all-powerful, and God is good, then evil should not be. But evil does exist - everywhere.
So often good people like yourselves think about how they are to love God and others and translate that into action. This is important and central in our Faith and Christian Life.
Christmas though is first and foremost about God loving us - God reaching out to us in the best way ever. The next step is ours, to be in awe and wonder at this mystery. Then our response to love God and others in practical ways, will certainly follow.
God didnt need us to be happy. God is perfectly happy. However he wanted to share his happiness and his many gifts, so he created us, the world and the universe. God reached out to us as it were.
God has never stopped reaching out to us. The author of Hebrews states At many moments in the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our time, the final days, he has spoken to us in the person of his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the ages. (1:1-4) God intervened in the world in so many ways in the Old Testament. He intervened fully in human history by sending his only Son.
The Incarnation is a great mystery. We cannot plumb the depths of it. We can only stand there in awe. That our infinite God even bothers - fancy that! At this time, and for the days following, lets reflect quietly on this great truth and mystery.
Easter and the Cycle of Human Life
The normal cycle of human life from womb to tomb includes birth, growth and development, aging and death.
Real growth is a rich and varied time with joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments, successes and failures. Then for many there is the aging process and for all, at whatever age, death.
Despite the difficulties (and for some there is much difficulty) when rightly viewed we know life is truly a precious gift and the life cycle truly amazing. It was uplifting to read recently of Pope Benedict XVIs visit to a home for the elderly run by the Sant Edgio Community in Rome.
Age is just one stage of the cycle of life. It can be seen by many as negative, a poor time and even a useless stage.
Pope Benedict had some very special words to say to these people. They were more than words because they obviously came from his personal reflections on his own aging.
He said ¦.I am well acquainted with the difficulties, problems and limitations of this age¦ At times, we may look back nostalgically at our youth when we were fresh and planning for the future. ¦although I am aware of the difficulties our age entails I would like to tell you with deep conviction; it is beautiful to be old! At every phase of life it is necessary to be able to discover the presence and blessing of the Lord and the riches they bring. In our faces may there always be the joy of feeling loved by God and not sadness.
One of the questions that has been suggested for us to ask in this Year of Grace is Where is Jesus? in various situations and people.
Years ago a gifted Perth priest by the name of Fr Jim OBrien remarked in his latter life, When I go to visit people now, I go not so much to bring Jesus to them, as to see where Jesus is at work already there in them.
At this time I am on my seven week Visitation / Confirmation Round of the Pilbara and Carnarvon Parishes. I must say I am thinking more like this myself.
In this time of Visitation I have much work to do, with items to check as well as making myself available for appointments / various events. More importantly though, I am enjoying seeing Christ at work in the priests, people and various situations.
What do I see so far? I offer a few examples.
In Karratha people keep joining our Church. A group of six people came into the Church at Easter, and recently I Confirmed another convert a young teacher in our St Pauls School. I have already heard that a group of about a dozen In Port Hedland are undergoing the R.C.I.A. People feel at home and welcome in our Church. It can only be the Grace of Jesus drawing them in various ways.