Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the baptism of the Church. With this feast, we begin a new liturgical season in our Maronite calendar, the Glorious Season of Pentecost which is also the longest season in the liturgical year. On this feast, we commemorate the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of the Lord when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in the upper room. Offcourse there are many references to the Holy Spirit in both the Old and the New Testaments, so have you ever asked yourself about the difference between the Holy Spirit referred to then and the Holy Spirit which appears at Pentecost?
When we think about the Holy Trinity, we find that first two out of the three persons are easier to understand than the third. God is easy to understand as the creator of all things. Jesus is also easy to understand because we distinctly know who he is and what he has done in and for the history of salvation. The Holy Spirit on the other hand is a little bit harder to grasp. What was the difference between the Holy Spirit before and after Pentecost? I can assure you that there is no difference before and after, however it is our understanding of Jesus; his life, death and resurrection that has changed things. As such, the Holy Spirit is now revealed in a different manner because of what Christ did for us. What has changed dramatically is our relationship to God and to each other which is now fulfilled when we know Christ and love him and attach ourselves to him. Therefore, everything is changed, everything is "new"! Pentecost brings a new beginning.
Liturgically, we celebrate this new beginning in two ways. The first is through the Rite of Adoration of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We kneel on the left knee to adore the Father, on the right knee to adore the Son and on both knees to adore the Holy Spirit which completes the Most Holy Trinity. The second is through the blessing and sprinkling with holy water. The holy water is a symbol that we use for the descent of the Holy Spirit upon us, just like it descended on the apostles two thousand years ago.
The question for us today is: are we ready to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to witness to Jesus Christ in our lives through everything that we do and say, through our personal, family, work and social life? If you haven’t already started, let this season of Pentecost be a time when you start. If you have fallen, then call on the Holy Spirit to help you to get up and start again. Don’t let the gifts that the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon you go to waste.
Last Friday we had a very successful Gala Dinner. Our thanks again goes to everyone who organised and supported this event. We look forward to hopefully starting the work on the project very soon. The work never ends in our vibrant parish, as we complete one event, we now embark on the biggest event in our parish calendar, Feast Week. Our pastoral council will begin planning for this on Wednesday. Also a big thank you to Father Youwakim Noujaim and everyone who helped prepare the end of May procession. It was a beautiful prayerful night as always.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I was privileged and honoured on Friday night to host with my brother priests and all of our parish family our Annual Gala Dinner. Our Lady of Lebanon has been home for me for seven years and I know that it has been home to many of you for much more. As you know, a home is a place for which we have great affection, a place where we feel loved, a place that loves us and welcomes us. How beautiful is this home when it is in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What makes our home even more special, is that our Lord resided in the womb of his mother, the womb of our home.
We all gathered together on Friday so that hand in hand we can work for a wonderful cause. Our home is in need of some care. The statue is corroding and causing much damage to the roof of the cathedral, the shelter is falling apart and has become a safety hazard to our children and the grotto has become very fragile and desperately needs repair.
The statue of Our Lady of Lebanon which is visible and stands tall in the skies of Western Sydney is the face of our Parish, the face of our Maronite Church in Australia. It has become a shrine for thousands of faithful people of different rites and faiths who come seeking the intercession of the Mother of God. Yes, people from all over the world come to find Jesus residing in the womb of his mother. Our Lady of Lebanon is the meeting place for young and old. Not only do people seek Jesus here, but they also seek each other. How many relationships have evolved from our parish family?
The grotto and shelter are the face of our parish on a ground level. As the faithful enter they cannot but be captivated by the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Many of our sons have proposed to their brides at the grotto. Thousands of our families have farewelled their loved ones into eternal life in front of this grotto. Millions of Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s have been prayed here. It is a place where billions of tears have flowed, some of them out of sadness or sorrow and some of them out of joy. If we could capture all the tears, the Nile of love will flow. And how beautiful is this Nile when it flows from the bosom of Our Lady. If we can compare these prayers and these tears with any earthly value, then these prayers and tears are the diamonds and pearls that flow from the heart of Our Lady.
I would like to thank Father Raphael Abboud and the Executive Committee who has worked with great determination over the past few months to organize this great event. Of course, this night could not have been as successful without the support of our wonderful Sponsors.
Finally, I would like to thank all our beloved parishioners. You are the diamonds and you are the pearls, without you our home would not exist.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we enter the sixth and second last week of the Season of the Glorious Resurrection, we again encounter the Resurrected Christ who unexpectedly appears to the apostles. This week we take a break from the Johannine Gospels and reflect on the Gospel of Saint Luke where we find a certain sequence to this passage. The master of story-telling, Luke, unfolds the apparition like a three-act play: Jesus appears suddenly; the disciples respond with fear; and Jesus calms their fears. After seeing his hands and feet, there was joy, but still disbelief and wonder. Saint Luke’s description of the disciple’s reaction is excellent:
‘in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.’ Isn’t it so true how faith slowly dispels doubt? Isn’t it true how joy testifies to the world-changing reality, however some questions always remain unanswered and we are kept wondering? If even in their joy and after experiencing the living Jesus, the apostles found it hard to comprehend his Resurrection, how can we do this after 2000 years?
Being a witness to Jesus is not easy, however it is not impossible! To be a witness we need strength in faith and perseverance. Our mission is to be a witness of the love of God revealed in Jesus. It this love that drives us to believe and confirms us in our faith. We need to ask ourselves this question: Am I a witness of this love?
We especially need to ask ourselves this question in light of the journey that we are on during this Jubilee Year of Martyrdom and Martyrs in the Maronite Church. There are so many examples of people who were witnesses till death. Their witness meant that they sacrificed their lives and became the ultimate witnesses of God’s love.
God continues to send us examples of his love through the Saints and Saint Rita was no exception. As a daughter, wife, mother and religious sister, Saint Rita witnessed to the love of God revealed in Jesus at every moment of her life. As we conclude the Novena in her honour and celebrate her feast, let us always turn to her example and ask for her intercession in our time of need. It is through her example that God shows us that nothing is impossible.
Preparations are well underway for the Gala Dinner which will be held next Friday. The committee has been working very hard to make the final arrangements. We are all looking forward to a memorable night in which we can raise the much-needed funds to make the necessary renovations to the statute, shelter and grotto. Last week, the procession in commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima was truly a beautiful occasion in which our Maronite Church together with the Latin Church celebrated as one. Our thanks to the clergy and organizing team from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta and especially to Subdeacon Charbel Dib for representing OLOL on the team.