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.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we continue our journey through the Season of Pentecost in the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we arrive at a very important station in which the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is truly revealed as Jesus rejoices in the Spirit. This week, after the 72 disciples come back from their mission and tell Jesus about their experiences, Jesus is filled with joy as he listens to how the Holy Spirit has truly worked through them and their experiences. This joy allows Jesus to burst into a prayer of thanksgiving to his Father for revealing this great joy of the Kingdom to them. The Kingdom of God, that is the love of the Father, was revealed to them in the little things that they did to help the people that they visited.
As we live our lives today, often we try to find this great joy in major events, milestones or achievements that take place in our lives. We are always trying to find something that will have a big effect, a big bang if you like. However, have you ever stopped to think that sometimes it is in the very small things that we do that this joy can be found. It could be in a smile or a simple “hello” or even an acknowledgement of something small that someone has done. It could even be in our mannerisms or reactions, in the way that we welcome and greetpeople. Saint Mother Teresa says to us: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” The 72 disciples didn’t have anything other than their experience of love through Christ. Yet they could experience this joy and effectively change the course of the world. Today, we have so much more than them, yet we are blinded by our greed for more. Let us start finding joy in the little things, because it is in them that the great love of God can truly be found.
On Wednesday and after two and a half years of service in this blessed parish, we said good-bye to Father Youhanna Khalife. Father Youhanna was appointed by the Holy See last Thursday as the Director General of the Maronite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is an important role which will see Father Director travelling back to Lebanon to assume his new appointment. We have been very privileged to work with Father Youhanna. His wise counsel, the monastic spirit which he brought with him and lived has had a very positive effect on us as priests and on the parish. Further, his ability make decisions with prudence and tact has been exemplary, the signs of a good leader.
On behalf of all the clergy, staff, committees and parishioners, I take this opportunity to congratulate Father Youhanna on his new and very important appointment. I thank him for everything that he has achieved, especially for his work in Ryde which will be continuing and his work here in the parish with the Sodality and Fersen. May the prayers of Blessed Virgin and Saint John Paul II be with him.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are in the third week of the Season of Pentecost and today we reflect on our Christian life and how honest we are in living it. In the Letter of Saint Paul, he invites to live what Jesus says through our actions. And in the Gospel of this Sunday, it asks: What are the conditions of allowing Jesus to live in our hearts?
Over the last two weeks, over one hundred of our sons and daughters have experienced for the first time, Jesus in their hearts through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, receiving their first Holy Communion. In my homily, I asked the children, parents and teachers to explain to me “why they were so happy today?”
Ofcourse, many explained it is because they were receiving Jesus, others because it is the beginning of a new spiritual journey and so on. The joy on their faces was wonderful and the whole church was radiating this joy. I went on to tell them a little story about the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. He was a very powerful man who ruled many nations and nearly the whole world. One day, somebody asked him: What is the most important day in your life? They expected him to say: the day I was crowned Emperor or my royal wedding day or the day that he won a battle. But Napoleon answered by saying: “The most important day of my life was my First Holy Communion Day.”
Wow! What a response. I like many were amazed that this was his response. However, when we think about this a little bit, we really have no reason to be amazed. If we think about it clearly, this should really be the response of each one of us. Our first Holy Communion ofcourse should be the most important and happiest day of our lives because we are receiving our King and Saviour into our hearts. We are receiving God!
For this reason, we encourage our parents to help their children understand this reality. Although the Church tries very hard to teach your children and help them to understand the truth of our Catholic teachings, it is up to you to be their role models. Everything that we have taught them over the last five months is nothing compared to the example that you give them on a daily basis. Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is not just an act that we must tick as completed on our list of things to do, it is a life-long commitment to the promises we make with Christ.
On behalf of my brother priests, I would like to congratulate all the children that received Holy Communion for the first time over the last two weeks and their families. I would also like to thank the Holy Communion teachers who have travelled with the children for the last five months preparing them to receive this holy sacrament. Your hard work and dedication is truly a testament to your love of Christ and his Church. May the Lord who is ever present in the Eucharist, be the source and summit of the abundant love of God in your lives.