Church of St Barbara, Valletta
Sunday 5th June 2016
Two large groups of people. One large group of people entering the city and another group of people coming out of the city. At one point these two groups with different leaders they meet. This is the scene we have in today’s Gospel from Chapter 7 of St Luke. Jesus is leading one group of people – he is not alone, he is with his disciples and St Luke says: “a large crowd accompanied him” (Lk 7, 11). He is the Lord of life.
Leading his own group of disciples, another followers. From the city a funeral is being led, the funeral of a young man, the only son of a widow. The Gospel says: “a large crowd from the city was with her” (v. 12). Then the Lord sees another group of people. It is a sad funeral. There is a lament of a woman, she has lost her only son. For her that does not only mean the loss of a great love affair as she had already lost her husband. It also means that she is now left on her own. She is totally dependent on the goodwill of others: her extended family or her friends. Women did not go out to work as you all do nowadays; she was at the mercy of other people. The only bread winner in the family had died, her only son.
The Gospel says that Jesus was moved with pity for her and said to her: “Do not weep” (v.13). I am sure that Jesus was concerned about widows at his time of his life, because his mama, Our Lady lost her husband Joseph. She was also a widow and he had been for quite some time the bread winner in the house in Nazareth. Joseph had taught Jesus how to be a good carpenter, and he used to bring home whatever earnings he made by his trade and gave it to Mary. One day he had to leave home, he had to start three years of itinerary preaching, going from one village to another. When Jesus left Nazareth and settled in Capharnaum, on the lake of Galilee, he used to go from one place to another, preaching the Good News. His mother was supported by the extended family, the Gospel calls: ‘the brothers of Jesus’ some of them we know by name. But he must have felt an enormous sympathy, compassion, the Gospel says “pity” (v. 13) for this lady who like his mama, was now left with nobody to take care of her. “Do not weep”.
We go a bit fast forward in the life of Jesus and he is in Jerusalem nailed to a cross. Before he dies, he thinks about his mother, even if he is immersed, baptized in suffering. He is still worrying about what was going to happen to the widow of Nazareth. Jesus chooses John, the most beloved and the most faithful of his disciples and tells him: “This is your mother”. He tells her “he is your son” (Jn 19, 26.27). He is going to take care of you. This is the heart of Jesus that thinks about the suffering of a widow, her predicament, her sorrow, her bereavement, but also her future and he does not stop there. He makes a step forward and touches the coffin. Imagine the whole crowd on the side of Jesus and the crowd on the side of the coffin and they see Jesus touching the coffin. That was a taboo, that was ‘no go’. You could not touch the coffin because otherwise you will become impure. You would have to purify yourself before doing anything else when talking to other people, eating, whatever. The Lord does not worry about this, he does not worry about the law of purity, or what is impure or not. Jesus wants to touch our destiny, he wants to be part of our weaknesses, he wants to touch the mystery of death.
“Young man, I tell you, arise” (v.14). And the young man, the breadwinner for his mother, sits up and begins to speak. So he is not a ghost, he is a young man brought back to the community of men. Then Jesus gives him to his mother. This is a wonderful gesture of Jesus because it is not only the son coming back to life. It is about a widow taking back her child and of Jesus giving her back her son.
The two groups are all in fear as they would be in front of the divinity, of God himself, and they glorify to God. They said two things that I would like you to remember “a great prophet has arisen in our midst” (v. 16), a great prophet!
The First Reading tells the story of Elijah, giving life back to the young man and giving him to the widow of Sarepta. She had given all the oil and the dough she had to the prophet. Then she said: “this is the only thing I have for me and my son, we will eat it and then we will die. But come and share and we will die together”. The prophet said: ‘don’t worry, the Lord will provide’. The oil did not lack and the dough did not lack, they kept living on them (cfr. Kings 17, 12.16). But one day her son died and she said: ‘Did you come here to kill my son?’. This is why Elijah is one of the great prophets, because through his prayer, the son has returned to his mother (Kings 17, 23). The Church chooses the story from Elijah as a parallel to the reading of today’s Gospel, so we can understand why the two groups: the one accompanying Jesus and the one coming from the town of Naim could say: “a great prophet has arisen in our midst”.
But there is another saying: “God has visited his people” (Lk 7, 17). And it is so wonderfully true because Jesus is the Son of God made man. It is life that meets death at the entrance of the city of Naim. And life wins. Jesus gives back this young man to his mother. The Father in heaven will do the same in a different way on Easter Sunday when he raises Jesus from the dead.
We are here today to celebrate the fact that Jesus is the hope for our loved ones who have gone before us, but he is also our hope. He does not go away from our experience of death, of bereavement, of our loss. He touches the coffins of our loved ones, of our dear brothers and sisters, of our parents and grandparents. He gives life everlasting.
I am pleased to be with you, dear members of the Filipino-Maltese community. I know how well your work and your dedication is appreciated by the Maltese community. I know that you are the best ambassadors for your country, a country of seven thousand islands and you keep counting. We are only three islands!
When I went to the Philippines some time ago and I went to Manila and other places, the flight was interesting because I kept seeing one island after the other. What I had read before about it was true. The Philippines is extraordinary beautiful, so varied, so generous. This is what you bring to the Mediterranean, a bit of breeze from Asia, from such a wonderful Catholic country.
Thank you so much for your presence. I hope that you feel at home. I tell you what I have decided. When I see such a lovely community, Fr Raymond who told me: ‘we cannot find a bigger church here”. It is not comfortable for people to have to stand for all the liturgy’. I know.
I have been privileged to know personally Cardinal Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila. I will invite him to come to Malta on one of his trips to Rome. We must definitely find a nicer church for the Cardinal. I was thinking of inviting him to preside the Eucharist for you at St John’s Co-Cathedral. I thank Fr Raymond, Fr Charles and Fr Victor who worked a lot in the Philippines for a long time.
Thank you so much for your beautiful presence on the Maltese Islands and I hope that to this ministry you remain united to your faith. Wherever we are, we are Catholics, we are Christians, wherever we are. Wherever we are, when we unite for the Eucharist, we are also at one with our communities at home. These people are far away, and also with our loved ones in heaven. This is the moment when every week we celebrate the Communion of Saints. Even if you could not go for the funeral of a loved one at home – when you come to Mass on Sunday, you are one with him because we are united not only with the Church militant who we try to follow Jesus. But we are very weak, we know, but we are also united in the communion of saints, with those loved ones who have gone before us.
Thus, we thank Jesus for not going away from our side, but touching and giving us life and hope as a source of praise. May we remain rooted in Christ and that your fellowship becomes a fellowship with all and the ones far away.
✠ Charles J. Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta