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.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We continue this week from where we left off in the Gospel of John. After they had breakfast, Jesus sat with Peter and asked him three times if he loved him. This is one of the last encounters that Jesus has with Peter and a very important one at that. Peter affirmatively responds three times with a yes to Jesus and each time Jesus entrusts him with the mission of taking care of his flock. You will notice that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter if he will be obedient, bow down to him or if he will follow his commands. He doesn’t ask him if he is an expert in philosophy or a scholar in Scripture or specialises in a particular branch of theology. Jesus simply asks him “Do you love me?” All Jesus asks for is love and it is this love that is central to our mission as followers of Christ.
As we carry out the mission of Christ, this love will most of the time take us to places that we do not want to go. This is what Jesus explains to Peter and to us today. Many times we are taken to the gates of hell by people that we love and trust. They even open up the gates for us and lead us to anger, hatred, resentment, vengeful thoughts. They lead us to sin! Unfortunately, they lead us to sin in his name. However, our service to these people in love will prevail and this is what will lead and guide us. You see, this is all that matters to Jesus, love. At the end of the day, it will not matter how many degrees I have or how many books I have written. The only thing that will matter is how much I loved!
Our Lady is an icon of this love. She is a wonderful example of compassion and affection. Our Lady always takes us to the place that our heart desires, the place in which we yearn for, she always takes us to her son Jesus. As we celebrate the one hundred year anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima to three shepherd children; Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta; between May 13 and October 13, 1917; let us always remember to call on her intercession to lead us to her son, Jesus.
Like Our Lady, our mother’s also lead us to places that we want to go, peaceful and secure places where we feel the warmth of their tenderness and love. Our parish celebrated Mother’s Day on Tuesday with a beautiful Mass and luncheon. Our thanks go to Father Youwakim Noujaim, Subdeacon Danny Nouh and the ladies from our committees who worked together to make the day a beautiful day in which we honour the mothers of our parish. On behalf of all the clergy I would like to wish all our Mother’s a Blessed Mother’s Day. Thank you for all the sacrifices that you make for us. You are the love that shines like a beacon in our lives.