Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Happy New Year! Thanks-be-to-God for the many graces that He has bestowed upon us in 2017 and we ask His blessing upon 2018. I pray that this year will be a very fruitful year for you and your families as we all continue our spiritual journey towards the Kingdom that awaits us.
The Christmas and New Year period is always a wonderful time for families to get together and enjoy the season. It is also a period of rest, relaxation and fun. Many of our families take time-off during this time to enjoy the beautiful weather, but most of all enjoy each other. It is so important that we have this time to firstly refresh and rejuvenate ourselves for the year ahead and to experience memorable moments with our loved ones. I hope that everyone is enjoying the break and each other.
On Saturday, we began the Season of the Glorious Epiphany of the Lord. Through this feast we celebrate the baptism of the Lord in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. At this Baptism, we celebrate the appearance or manifestation of Christ among us as God’s Son and revelation of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Feast of the Epiphany is the Feast of humility par excellence. Jesus, the Divine Son of God, humbled himself and was baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan River like everyone else at the time. The Prayer of Forgiveness from the Maronite Ritual for Baptism proclaims it beautifully: “Although you had no need to do so, in your compassion you came and were baptized, sanctifying the waters of the Jordan. O Son of Majesty, you bowed your head before John the Baptist, while the Father called out from on high: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased!””
Jesus bowed His head and was baptised as the ultimate sign of humility by John the Baptist who was a symbol of humility himself. He lived an extraordinary humble life and prepared the way for Jesus, exclaiming “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). As we begin this New Year and celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, let us reflect on the humility of Jesus and John the Baptist and learn from them how to live a life that is pleasing to God. Let us think about the ways in which we can decrease so that He can increase!
The food that we prepare during this great feast is also very humble. Comprising of flour, water and oil (and sugar for the sweet-tooth), our beloved mothers and fathers kept the Maronite tradition of the Epiphany pastries, Zlaabyi and Awamet, alive in the parish. They have worked very hard on preparing these sweets and savouries for us to enjoy as we greet one another by saying “Deyim, Deyim”.
Last weekend I was very fortunate to attend the annual family retreat between Christmas and New Year. Twelve families attended the retreat this year and the theme was “The Family: a treasure for the Church”. Thank you to all who organised this retreat. Also, last Saturday our youth celebrated Christmas and New Year’s with their annual party in the church hall. It was a great night, and everyone enjoyed it. Thank you to our MYO team for organising it.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we approach the final weeks of the Season of the Glorious Cross before beginning the new liturgical year, we find that our Lord truly
intensifies his expectations of us as stewards of the gifts that he has entrusted upon us. The parable about the talents is a simple story about a man who is preparing to go on a journey and entrusts his possessions to his servants. He distributes his wealth among three of his servants, giving each in accordance with their abilities. As we hear in the story, the first two invest their master’s wealth and their return is doubled while the third servant does nothing at all. When the master comes back he praises and rewards the first two and condemns the third for being lazy.
Like all the stories of the past few weeks, this story is about us. God, the Heavenly Master, entrusts each one of us with many talents, many abilities, each according to what we can handle. The question for us today is: do we use these talents for the glory of God and the good of His people? Before we can answer this question, we need to discover what talents we possess. We need to identify them, acknowledge them, accept them and be proud of them. God has given each one of us unique skills and abilities. As a family or community, these skills and abilities complement each other in the building of society. Often however, we fail to discover, let alone use these skills and abilities because we are too focussed on the skills and abilities of others. We waste so much time worrying about others and wanting what others have that we forget about ourselves and the wonderful gifts that the Lord has endowed us with. God gives each one of us in accordance with our abilities, He deprives no-one! For this reason, we need to stop worrying about what others have and focus on what we have, utilising our talents in the best possible way and placing them at the service of the Lord and of each other.
On a parish note, Arabic School, Fersen, Teens and Come Alive all resumed for the final semester of this year. We welcome them back and all the leaders who on a weekly basis volunteer their time and talent to serve our children. The Pastoral Council Committee also met this week to evaluate Feast Week and to start preparing for the opening of the liturgical year, Christmas and all the events leading up to this joyous feast. On behalf of all the clergy, I thank all the committees and their coordinators for their ongoing commitment and dedication to the parish, you are all a wonderful example of how faithful stewards activate their talents for the Glory of God and the service of His people.
On this blessed 5th Sunday of Pentecost, our Maronite Church celebrates the Feast of St Peter and St Paul who are also known as the Pillars of the Church or of Christianity. Two people, from two different walks of life, each with their own weakness or sin, each with a unique experience of Christ and a conversion story.
Peter, an Apostle from the 12, experienced the Lord in his public ministry, in His passion, death and Resurrection. Peter, a weak man, denies the Lord three times. This same Peter, in today’s Gospel proclaims that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” It is this same Peter to whom Christ gives greatest responsibility: the building of His Church and the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Paul, a Roman citizen and a Jewish Pharisee, experienced the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul, a great attacker of the faith and a persecutor of the early Christians, becomes a great defender of the faith and a protector of the early Church. It is this same Paul, whose writings and letters form part of the Church teachings and are read during liturgies.
But why are these two Saints celebrated together? What do they teach you and I? Well, firstly, both of them seem so different and indeed they are. Peter and Paul are like the North and South pole of a magnet. But there is wisdom in the saying that opposites attract. This force that brings them both together is known as Christ.
Peter and Paul, undoubtedly had differing opinions, especially in the establishment of the early Church. One of the greatest debates recorded in Scripture is that of the membership into the community of Christ: did one have to be circumcised in order to be a Christian?
In our own lives, opposition is healthy, a difference in opinion opens doors for different ways of doing things, and it opens doors for dialogue. It opens doors for increased learning and for progress. However, we must be respectful and accept differences as part of God’s unique plan. Taking from the example of Peter and Paul, when there were disputes, they came together in a spirit of love and understanding. They called a meeting and with respect for One who is greater than they were, they discussed and from their discussion, a solution or an answer was born.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish all teachers and students a safe, enjoyable and well-deserved holiday. Make sure that you take this time to relax and re-energise, not only physically but also spiritually. Remember that just because you are on holidays, it does not mean you are on holidays from Mass.
Also a big thank you to our Seniors Committee who celebrate a regular Mass followed by lunch and activities for our beloved seniors. May God reward you abundantly.
Last but not least, a special thank you to our Heaven on Earth committee and volunteers. The work that you do in silence is seen by our heavenly Father and I am sure is also appreciated by those that you serve. In the cold of the winter, you bring physical warmth to the homeless and needy and also an emotional warmth in the love and care that you show towards them.