Homily by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna
As you know, for us Maltese this is always emotional to read Acts 28 and to hear our island mentioned by name. And also the beautiful eulogy or praise of Luke talking about the inhabitants as using unusual kindness with the Apostle and the other people shipwrecked. We are not talking about a handful of people; Acts 27 tells us that there were 276 people traveling on that ship. The protos of the island, Publius, has the generosity to let them stay at his villa for three days, which was the countryside farm not very far from what nowadays we call St Paul’s Bay. But what makes the details in Acts 28 so poignant is the fact that in the coming to our shores of St Paul, we do celebrate a shipwreck.
The cathedral is built on this very important site; tradition says that this must have been the domus of the protos. So we have a domus in the capital city which is Melitae, where we are, and then a villa in the countryside. And so, the tradition is that the first church and then the cathedral was built on the domus of Publius.
Jesus talks about and promises that he will be with us till the end of days. He gives signs of his presence. He says: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mk 16, 17-18).
If you go to the signs and you reread Acts 28 you realise that Paul comes here and we have at least two signs of the presence of Jesus. There’s Paul is bitten by the viper and nothing happened to him. The inhabitants expect him to die, and then when he doesn’t die, they think that he is a god (Acts 28, 4-6). And then he goes into the place where Publius’s father is sick, he lays his hands on Publius’s father and this old man comes back to full health. The inhabitants quickly hear of this, all those who are sick, Luke says, come to Paul and are healed of their sickness (Acts 28:9). I always say that is the beginning of free health services on the Islands. These are the signs of the presence of Jesus.
Now there are two other signs that are not mentioned explicitly. “by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues”. There is a beautiful commentary about speaking in tongues by St Anthony of Padua which we read at his feast day, on the 13th June, only a few days ago and St Anthony of Padua says that the new tongue is charity, love, and this is the new language that everybody understands.
Charity is the new language that Paul brings to these Islands. He brought the language of love to people who were naturally generous; they saw a people who were shipwrecked, they prepared a fire for them, and they treated them with great humanity (Acts 28:2). The protos is also a very generous man. What sort of charity would Paul bring to these kind natives? The charity of Jesus Christ! “There is no love greater than that to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). And this is the way to cast out demons because ‘demon’ is a spirit that has malicious energy, but diabolos, the other name for the evil one, is the spirit that brings division (diaballe). And Paul, through his ministry of healing, brings unity, brings true spiritual healing.
I would like to offer a few reflections on these signs for your work. Many people ask me: How do you live with all those negative narratives?’ And I am not the only one because you guys need to deal with so many negative narratives. This is the poison that the Lord needs to free us from. If a problem comes and you need to face it. We’re talking about a hatred for the Church which comes from people who are tremendously hurt and very angry and not able to forgive. This is all poison that derives from the sin of others, and the Lord, through his presence, heals us of these bites of the serpents of malice and of evil. He also gives us the grace and the mission to heal through communication. If the evil one is the one who brings division, communication need to create unity in diversity, by unity; a meeting of different people, different cultures, different languages, and learning the one language of fraternal charity.
We pray today that the Lord may bless your mission, and through your mission give a sign of the power of his presence as he did with our forefathers almost 2,000 years ago when a prisoner called Paul was shipwrecked here but brought us the power of Jesus.
✠ Charles J. Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta