Dearest Brothers and Sisters,
It is with an earnest cry that we greet each other this year in the wake of the tragedy that has taken place in Egypt. Yet again we find ourselves in the midst of despair, anger and loss at a time when we should be celebrating with joy because of the victory that was achieved on our behalf through the Resurrection of The King. Suicide bombers attacked two Coptic Churches in northern Egypt on Hosanna Sunday killing forty-four people. Forty-four new martyrs have been added to the scrolls at the gates of heaven because they bore supreme witness to the Resurrection of The King, their faith being their only crime in the eyes of their perpetrators. Year after year, these scrolls are being populated with the names of people who are loved, people who love and people who put the witness of their faith into action. Although they did not choose their destiny, they lived their faith to the ultimate degree of sacrifice; in the footsteps of The King, the Supreme Martyr.
Pope Francis teaches us that: “a Church without martyrs is a church without Jesus.” In this Jubilee Year of Martyrdom and Martyrs in our Maronite Church, we celebrate the witness of the martyrs to their faith. Not only do we celebrate the many martyrs in the history of the Maronite Church, but we also celebrate the martyrs who everyday give up their lives. Further we celebrate the white martyrs who suffer persecution and torture today and every day. As difficult as this may be, yes, we celebrate them because they have earned the eternal reward of the heavenly kingdom. Each drop of blood is a sign of victory because it is a drop of love and forgiveness which cries out with the Lord: “forgive them Father, for they know not what they are doing.” Each drop of blood is a shout to the mothers and fathers to stop weeping because “He is Risen, He is truly Risen.” Each drop of blood is a call to the nations to take action against injustice. Each drop of blood is a reminder to us of the ultimate and supreme sacrifice that we must be ready to make so that we can truly be witnesses to the Resurrection of The King. Are we ready to make this sacrifice?
We are a people of faith, hope and love and we are witnesses to the Resurrection through the work that we do here in our parish. Over the last few weeks of Lent and during Passion Week, I cannot but testify to the great faith of our parishioners. The church and church grounds have overflown with the many faithful that have taken part in all our celebrations. The wonderful work of our parishioners in making everyone who comes to Our Lady of Lebanon Co-Cathedral feel welcomed into their home is something that I am very proud to proclaim aloud. Day after day, you have worked tirelessly to serve and to help others come closer to the Risen Lord. Through your actions, you have helped them on their journey to the Resurrection. Every member of the clergy, every staff member, every committee member and every volunteer has contributed so much to the mission of our parish. I thank you all for your contributions no matter how big or how small. Through your actions, my brothers and sisters, you are circulating the unending drops of blood of the martyrs through the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Your witness is a clear message to those who are trying to eliminate us!
Christ is Risen…He is truly Risen, and we are witnesses to this!
The Sunday of the Blind is the sixth Sunday in the season of Great Lent and brings us into the final two weeks of our Lenten Journey. Bartimaeus (the blind man) from today’s Gospel can teach us many things. We can sometimes fall in to the trap of thinking the things we lack can prohibit us or exclude us from being happy or from reaching out to God and being close with him; Bartimaeus shows us otherwise. Despite being blind and cast off to the roadside, Bartimaeus was not afraid to use what he had to seek out Jesus; using his ears to hear that Jesus was near then using his voice to call out to him. Bartimaeus also teaches us to be courageous; when the people tried to silence him, he ignored them and continued to cry out, asking for Jesus to show him mercy.
In today’s world more than ever, we have many people in opposition to our faith and try to stop us from calling Jesus’ name; however, like Bartimaeus we are called to be courageous and fearless in acknowledging Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. In calling out to Jesus, Bartimaeus showed incredible faith, knowing with certainty that Jesus would stop and help him, he had faith Jesus would bring him to the Harbour of Salvation. As we journey towards Hosanna Sunday and Passion Week, we ask the Lord to remain with us and guide us as we journey towards the Harbour of Salvation.
This week has been another busy one at a parish level with our Stewardship committee meeting on Monday and our Seniors committee also having their fortnightly gathering and activities on Thursday. On Wednesday, the Sodalities led by Fr Youwakim continued with their weekly Lenten lunch in the presence of His Excellency Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, presenting him with two donations from the money that they raised at these lunches. One to take with him to Egypt to help the Christian Churches in May and one to MaroniteCare. Our Youth also took time away from their everyday lives whilst on their retreat this weekend; a thank you to Fr Raphael, Sr Margaret and Subdeacon Charbel for leading them on the retreat. As we know, next Sunday is Hosanna Sunday and I encourage you to take the Program which will detail all the Mass times and spiritual events of Passion Week beginning on Hosanna Sunday through to New Sunday.
I pray you have a blessed week.
Dearest Brothers and Sisters,
After a break last week from the miracle stories we find ourselves this week in Capernaum bearing witness to the fourth miracle during this season of Great Lent, the healing of the Paralytic Man. We all know this story well and are always captivated by the faith of both the paralytic man and his friends who overcame all obstacles to get to Jesus, even if it meant climbing a roof and some heavy lifting. If we focus on the friends of the paralytic, we can speak about two things, their love for their friend and their confidence in Jesus’ healing power. These two aspects allowed them to be creative and find a way to help their friend help himself to get to Jesus.
This begs the question of us; when we are helping others, are we helping them to help themselves? Or are we trying to find a short-term solution to alleviate some immediate pain and suffering. For example, when we feed the homeless or the needy, is it enough to provide them with a portion of food for a period of time to alleviate their hunger and need or are we being creative in finding a way to help them to help themselves out of the despair that they may be living in. This may be to help them find a job, or help them to learn something new or find an organisation that can also help them. Further, through our good-will, are we helping them to help themselves get to Christ? This may mean that we may need to go beyond giving them a portion of food, it means that there is going to be some climbing and heavy lifting involved. It means that we may need to get out of our comfort zone and do something different that will truly deliver them to Christ. This facilitation will hopefully allow them to truly encounter Christ, so that that they can stand up, take their mat and walk again.
This past week we celebrated two feasts of two women who continue to help us to help ourselves get to Christ. On Thursday, we celebrated the feast of Saint Rafqa who is a remarkable example for us. Saint Rafqa was able to join her suffering with the suffering of Christ on the cross and teaches us to do the same in our brokenness and despair. On Saturday, we celebrated the feast of the Annunciation, that great day when Mary said yes to God and played a major role in delivering the human race from its abandonment. Through their intercession and prayers, they facilitate our deliverance to Christ. May their prayers be with you always.
The program for Passion Week and Easter has now been finalised. I encourage you to take a copy and note all the events that will take place during this Holy Season. This year we will be hosting a spiritual concert for Nizar Fares together with the Syriac Catholic Church on Passion Tuesday (11 April). This and all the spiritual events will help us on our journey toward the Resurrection.