Dearest Brothers and Sisters,
The healing stories in this week’s Gospel continue with two accounts; that of the Haemorrhaging Woman and the other of the daughter of Jarius, who was a leader of the synagogue. Although it seems that these two accounts have no apparent connections, Saint Luke in his intelligent writing style draws us to recognise the connections, uniqueness and commonalities of each. Both are from the same town and need Jesus. Jarius, a father who desperately wants to save the life of his daughter seeks Jesus as his last resort and gets down on his knees and begs him in public to help him. For a leader of the synagogue to do this would have been very undignified, however a small price to pay if Jesus could heal his daughter who was twelve years old and “coming of age”, a cause for celebration in the Jewish context.
The woman who had tried everything to stop her haemorrhaging also saw Jesus as her last resort and would have also needed to get down on her knees to beg (reference to the fringe of Jesus’ clothing) for the healing touch of Jesus without him even seeing her or knowing who she was. In contrast to Jarius, she was nobody of importance, so much so, that Luke does not even give us a name. Further she would have been considered someone who was impure, a sinner, because of her haemorrhaging. What is interesting though and very crafty on the part of Saint Luke, is that he tells us that she had been haemorrhaging for twelve years, the same age as Jarius’ daughter. She hasn’t stopped bleeding since the day the twelve-year-old girl was born and what is experienced as a “coming of age” and a cause of celebration for young girls has become, for this woman, a curse.
There is so much that we can compare in these two stories, however I would like to focus on how in both accounts we find the person begging for Jesus’ healing touch. Two totally different people in the eyes of society, but their action was the same. In the light of this Gospel, we need to ask ourselves the following questions: Are we too proud to beg? Do we have such an elevated view of ourselves that falling on our knees and begging seems beneath us? Are our issues any less in need of Jesus than that of the woman and Jarius? What would you not do to place yourself before the Lord and his grace? This woman would not let anything separate her from Jesus' power to heal her and Jarius let go of his social standing. Both were willing to beg! Amazingly, we don't have to ... even though we often need to! As we continue our Lenten journey, let us not be afraid to get down on our knees and beg for Jesus’ healing touch.
Speaking about woman of great faith, this week a very special woman from our parish received Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay’s Maronite Woman of the Year Award on the International Day for Women, Wednesday 8 March, Eva Charbel. This award has been established in 2017 to recognise and showcase the dedication and achievement of Maronite women in their outstanding contribution to the Maronite Church in Australia and to the Australian society in general. These women inspire us through their achievements and challenge us to make our own contribution to the Body of Christ and Eva is certainly a wonderful example of this achievement. We are very proud of this achievement and congratulate Eva and her family for receiving this award.
Welcome to 2017!
I pray that you have had a good break in which you have refreshed yourselves ready for the New Year. This week we begin a new season in our Maronite Church, the Glorious Epiphany of our Lord. The Feast of the Epiphany was first celebrated in the Eastern Church in the third century and eventually adopted in the Western Church. This feast is also known as the Theophany.
Epiphany is a Greek word which means a “manifestation” or an “apparition”. In Syriac, this word is “Denho”. Theophany means “an
appearance of God”. Epiphany because on this day we celebrate the appearance or manifestation of Christ among us as God’s son and Theophany because for the first time in the Bible, the Holy Trinity was revealed, Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the Baptism of the Son.
The Epiphany water is blessed with a lighted charcoal which signifies the fire of the Spirit who entered the Jordan River at Christ’s Baptism. In our Maronite liturgy, this is the meaning of the ritual of immersing the inflamed charcoal in the water. It is like mixing fire and water, the fire represents divinity and the water represents our life or the material world. Symbolically, when our Lord went into the water to be baptized by Saint John the Baptist, he sanctified the water, the essential element of life. The water symbolises
the origin of creation and of every creature which is in need of sanctification through the Holy Spirit.
This water is then sprinkled on the congregation by the priest reminding them of their own baptism in which they put on a robe of Christ and were cleansed from their original sin. The water is also taken home and can be sprinkled or consumed so that the Holy Spirit may sanctify us and our material world submitting everything to the will of God.
This year we truly relived the baptismal rite by the renunciation of Satan and the profession of faith in the Epiphany rite on the eve of the Epiphany. Our beloved mothers and fathers also kept the Maronite tradition of the Epiphany pastries, Zlaabyi and Awamet,
alive in the parish. For three days, they worked on preparing these sweets and savory’s. The dough which is dunked in the oil represents Christs’ descent into the Jordan River. May the Divine presence of God be “Deyim, Deyim” in our lives forever.
Last weekend I was very fortunate to attend the annual family retreat between Christmas and New Year. Sixteen families attended the retreat this year and lived the theme “Inflamed with the love of God”. Over the four days, the families had the opportunity to be inflamed with the love of God through many spiritual, social and educational activities. Thank you to all who organised this retreat.
Also, last Friday our youth celebrated Christmas and New Year’s with an outdoor party in the church car park. It was a great night and everyone enjoyed it. Thank you to our MYO team for organising it.
Finally, I ask you to pray for our Bishop and all the clergy this week as we embark on our annual retreat. The theme for our retreat this year is “The Maronite Spirituality in the Liturgy”. As such there will only be one Mass celebrated between Monday and Friday at 6pm.
As we welcome this new year of 2017 we firstly give thanks to God for all the blessings and challenges we experienced together as a Parish family. In our Gospel reading for today we hear Jesus tell his disciples (and us also) “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” and when reflecting on these words we can’t help but think about our undeniable need for the Peace of Jesus. In 2016 alone, the world witnessed dozens of terrorist attacks in different parts of the world including some in our beloved country Lebanon. Along with these acts of violence, we witnessed the unrest of many caused by a variety of issues. Even in our own homes and in the depths of our own hearts, many of us struggle to find the peace that Christ gives to us. So how can we find this peace? The answer for us as Maronite Catholics is simple; we find the Peace of Christ and receive it in the most complete way in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy (the Mass). In our liturgy, we hear four times “Peace be with you”, our Rite of Peace involves the peace of Christ coming from his holy Altar and passed to the people present and after receiving the Prince of Peace in Communion, we are commissioned to “Go in Peace”. We are called in the highest form of our prayer to receive the peace of Christ and share this peace with all who encounter us. I pray that this may be our goal and our prayer as the people of God in Sydney, Australia in 2017, to be Icons of the Peace of Christ for all people.
Continuing on from our Christmas celebration and as we journey through the Season of the Birth of our Lord, we come to our next great feast, the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord on the 6th of January. We will be celebrating the feast with a Vigil Mass (including the Rite of blessings of the water and baptismal promise renewal) on Thursday 5th of January at 10pm. The Mass times on Friday will be 7am, 8:45am and 6pm. Again I would like to extend a thank you to all the great people who helped with our various spiritual and social events of 2016 and I pray that the Prince of Peace, Jesus our Lord bless you and your loved ones with a happy, prosperous and holy 2017.
Happy New Year!
Father Tony Sarkis