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Helping others to help themselves

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.

Fr Tony Sarkis

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Begging for Jesus’s healing touch

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.

Fr Tony Sarkis

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The Glorious Epiphany of our Lord

14-Baptism of our Lord2Welcome 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.

Fr Tony Sarkis

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