Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mass of the Neophytes—Notre Dame Cathedral, Ottawa, ON

Third Sunday of Easter (Year "C") - April 10, 2016
   [Texts: Acts 5.27b-32, 40b-41 [Psalm 30]; Revelation 5.11-14; John 21.1-19]

Today, the most important question facing Christian believers is: where is the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives, in the world? Is the Easter celebration that we live for fifty days just a reminder of a long-past event? Or is it the continuing celebration of a present reality?

The definitive moment of all time was the Resurrection—it is the focal point of all of cosmic history. Eastertide is about celebrating the miracle that gives meaning to our lives and helps us make sense of the world and our place in it.

Pope Francis in his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium wrote: “always [keep] in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living, and who offers us his salvation and his friendship” (EG, n.128).

Pope Francis emphasizes that our faith rests on a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We believe in a person, Jesus Christ who is the Son of God, whom we know and love. That relationship changes everything for us and when we experience it we are moved to share our joy with others. All of our beliefs are grounded on this personal encounter and knowledge of Jesus Christ. If we don’t first encounter him, none of the rest of the Church’s message makes sense.

On Easter evening, two downcast disciples took a road leading away from Jerusalem shared their sorrows with a stranger who joined them on the way. Later they came to realize it was Jesus “in the breaking of the bread.” This is another way of saying that they recognized him in the Eucharist as we do at Sunday Mass.

Right then and there, they realized their hearts began to be on fire within them as he spoke to them on the way. Looking back, Cleopas and the unnamed disciple with him (which could be any one of us as we put ourselves in the gospel scene) at last perceived that Jesus remains present among them, feeding them with his presence, love and attention.

In the miracle of the Eucharist, we too meet Jesus, as real as he was to these two disciples, in his sacred body and blood, in his very soul and divinity. The Church very wisely says that missing Sunday Mass without a very good reason is a serious sin – but why would we ever choose not to meet our Lord at Sunday Mass? Why would we choose not to meet the Lord if we have a choice?

The final element of the encounter in the Gospel is one that Pope Francis speaks about again and again. The disciples, after meeting and recognizing Jesus, immediately set off to share the Good News with others, something we will also see in today’s gospel reading. 

To be a disciple, to be a Christian, is to be a missionary who shares the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. The Holy Father says: “every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; 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.” (EG, n.120)

Today's responsorial psalm is from Psalm 30, an individual's thanksgiving to God for rescue from a life-threatening experience, possibly a major illness. In making it our prayer at Mass today, we see how an individual's prayer of praise for personal deliverance applies to other situations.  The psalm’s reference to a person who had come very close to death then recovering (“O Lord, you restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit”) was applied, by the Church's use in the Easter season, to Christ's resurrection.

The dynamic movement of the poem, as in many other psalms, is from the individual's experience to the community's.  The psalmist invites others to share his prayer of gratitude, “sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name”.  The affliction is seen to have been a temporary one, just as Christ's death was immediately followed by His resurrection (“weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning”).

The transition from mourning to rejoicing is also a theme of the story of Jesus' encounter with seven disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, known as the Sea of Tiberias after the major city on the lake.  It is found in the dialogue between Jesus and Peter about his love for the Lord Jesus. 

Christians have seen in Jesus' three questions, “Do you love me (more than these)?” as opportunities for Peter to undo his three denials. The rehabilitation of Peter touches on his personal relationship with Jesus. But Christ decides that their relationship of love will now touch many others, “Feed my lambs..., tend my sheep..., feed my sheep”.  There is a sense that the abundant love of Jesus and Peter for each other overflows to embrace many others.

Commentators have puzzled over the large number of fish that were caught, 153.  While some say it is a recollection of an eye-witness who counted them, Augustine is one of many interpreters who read the number symbolically.  He noted that 153 is the sum of all the integers between 1 and 17 and so suggests completeness, the totality of the church.

The word mystagogue comes from two Greek words (mystes: one initiated into the mysteries) and agogus (leader). It refers to the one who leads catechumens to grasp the implications for their lives of the mysteries they underwent at the Easter Vigil. From this comes the term “mystagogy” referring to the 50-day process—the last stage of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults—from Easter to Pentecost that goes on now.

I want to say a few words particularly to the neophytes, now. First, you are welcome here! Make yourselves at home. Second, I admire you. I admire your faith, your tenacity to pursue the truth, and your courage to make this commitment. For some of you, this has been a costly journey, in time and emotion. Let me assure you that you are in the right place. As Peter said to Jesus (John 6.68), “to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

This 50-day period of accompaniment will help you discover what it means to take part fully in the sacramental mysteries. The newly baptized are called “neophytes,” from the Greek words meaning “new born” or “new plant.” This is because the faith has been newly planted in you.

Even though one stage of your catechetical training is complete, there is more to discover about living as a Catholic Christian. Things often look different from the inside! You will surely have more questions about living a life of faith. You can count on the continuing support of the community to encourage your newly planted faith to grow deep roots. Your experience as a neophyte is vitally that of having undergone a “new birth”–one brought about by baptism through which you became, in Christ, a child of God, God’s son or daughter.

We come to understand that the water of our rebirth came from the Heart of Christ. Because of these waters of rebirth flowing from the open side of Christ, we—the baptized--will rise one day from the dead and live forever.

Although your journey in the Body of Christ began at the conferral of baptism at the Easter Vigil, it is a continuing, indeed lifelong, process. As your bishop, I have a paternal role to play. Your priest and fellow believers will help you on your way. But, it is your responsibility as an adult to encounter your Saviour frequently in prayer, in the Bible, and in the sacraments. And, you too are called to be fishers of other men and women for God’s Kingdom. 

God bless you today and always!

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