Lent III ~ SMC, 15 March 2020
How many Facebook friends do you have? If you have any, you will have more than me. I have a Facebook profile only to help maintain the pages for our churches. It’s not a job I particularly relish and I’m always pleased to have offers of help from people who might help by posting photographs of Masses. Let me know if you can help.
Anyway, Facebook friends. It doesn’t matter how many Facebook friends we have, of course, the supreme joy of being a Christian, reborn as a member of the Body of Christ, is that we know we are loved by God and we gather Sunday by Sunday, day by day, to receive the fruits of that love in the Mass. He wants us to come and receive His gifts to us of the Body and Blood of His Son, which we offer in thanksgiving for Jesus dying for us. Of old, as we heard in our first reading, Moses struck the rock and water flowed out so that God might abundantly and lavishly soothe the thirst of His people. This Living Water our Saviour offers to the Samaritan woman in the Gospel we’ve just heard, “welling up to to eternal life.” Our life should involve us splashing around in all the good things God has done for us, making ripples as we go and getting others wet too.
That love of God is such that it will draw us closer to those who also know this love. This family of the Church that gathers on the Lord’s Day is bound together by this love. Jesus calls us all friends (John 15:15) and says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In our series on who’s in the Church, today we turn, my brothers and sisters, to the Saints, those in Heaven who have conquered through the Blood of the Lamb. Chief among them is St Mary, this Church’s patron, the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God. There are also those others we see around us: St Peter, St Martin de Porres, St Anthony of Padua, St Anne, St Augustine of Canterbury. I could go on.
The Saints were sinners just like we are but they said sorry for their sins and were forgiven and restored by God’s grace and now they reign in Heaven as Kings and Queens. Think for example of St Peter’s denial, which we’ll be thinking about especially on Maundy Thursday in a few weeks’ time. He’s restored, as we read in John 21 by saying, “Lord, I love you,” and by then feeding the sheep Christ charges him to care for. He’s forgiven and is now a Saint. Think of Saul who became Paul. He’d gone round killing Christians, killing Christians, before his conversion. When a new priest arrives you normally get a little biography of him, telling where he comes from, what he did before seminary. Imagine being told your new priest had killed Christians in the past. You’d leave probably wouldn’t you? Celebrating the Saints and the the crown they have now in Heaven is a celebration of the forgiveness and compassion of God, which so often we fail to live out in our own lives, when it comes to the most mundane of things.
The Saints are to be our friends and we should enjoy spending time with them. Since ancient times Christians have spent time with those whom they have loved and have died. Their physical remains become a focus for our prayers and our memories, hence we visit graveyards. Keeping of the relics of Saints enables us to spend time with them. One of the things I love about going to Lourdes is spending time with St Bernadette, her relics maintained in a golden casket in the shape of roofed colonnade, about four foot long. St Bernadette received the visions from our Lady our hundred and sixty years ago, and typical of her, the relics are not prominently on display for everyone to see. She’s the reason everyone goes to Lourdes and yet her humility is such that she’s just in a little side chapel. I look forward to the visit to my friend and thank her for telling us about all that Mary the Mother of God said to her, of how the priests needed to build a church, how processions needed to be made in that place and how we all needed to do penitence, do penitence, do penitence for our sins.
You might have seen some of the photographs of Italian nurses in the press the other day: falling asleep at work stations, bruises on their faces because of the masks they have to wear for six hours without moving them for fear of infection. It reminds us of the pain of those who care for others. So often, the Saints have also put themselves at risk so as to love others. “Greater love,” says our Lord, “has no one than this but to lay down their life for their friends” (John 15:13). Remember our own St Martin de Porres who cared for those members of his community who but days and weeks before had mocked him and spoken against his ability to join their community. Remember St Maximilian Kolbe who ended up in the deaths camps of Nazi Germany. There at Auschwitz a list of those who had tried to escape were to be punished with starvation. One of those condemned to this long cruel death cried out, “But what of my wife and my children?!” St Maximilian Kolbe offered himself to die for that man that he might potentially see his family again. As he was starved he led the prisoners in prayer.
The Saints are praying for us, my friends. How on earth could they not be? Why would these friends of Jesus who are are already in Paradise not now pray for us who are also friends of Jesus? Don’t underestimate those bonds of love that exist between us. What strong bonds of love the Saviour ties around those for whom He died. The sufferings of the Saints is now over. They no longer need our prayers because they are in Heaven and what’s the point in praying for them? But we’re bound to them as we ask them to pray for us. In the middle of the night, in the doctor’s chair, as someone says something unkind to you, then the Saints are praying for you.
There’s a great deal of quite proper concern about the coronavirus. No one wants to be ill, no one wants to infect others, we don’t want those with preexisting medical conditions to die as a consequence of this virus. Such things are not new and we’re to keep focused that our priority must be holiness and the love of God in Christ Jesus. Bulk buying, which is just another word for greed, is not how we are to live. One of the Saints most called on for prayer during such pandemics is St Sebastian. St Sebastian is almost always depicted with arrows in his body, with him tied to a wooden pole or a tree. He was sentenced to death by the Roman Emperor before the end of the third century. Shooting him with arrows didn’t work and he was healed by St Irene. So they had to beat him with clubs. He’s associated with major outbreaks of ill health perhaps because of the arrow, the idea of spreading disease being like an arrow. Indeed Moses speaks of “arrows drunk with blood” that cause death (Deuteronomy 32:42).
In whatever sufferings the saints endured, they remained faithful to God, knowing the power of His Spirit. In Revelation 12, the loud voice proclaims of the saints: “Now have come the salvation and the power … they have conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for the did not cling to life even in the face of death.” May we know such as these to be our friends, praying for us, they being already in the fullness of bliss, which Christ longs for us to share. Amen.