Friday, December 4, 2009

Prayers for today: The Lord is coming from Heaven in splendour to visit his people, and bring them peace and eternal life.

Jesus, our Lord, save us from our sins. Come, protect us from all dangers and lead us to salvation, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. John Damascene (676?-749)

John spent most of his life in the monastery of St. Sabas, near Jerusalem, and all of his life under Muslim rule, indeed, protected by it. He was born in Damascus, received a classical and theological education, and followed his father in a government position under the Arabs. After a few years he resigned and went to the monastery of St. Sabas. He is famous in three areas. First, he is known for his writings against the iconoclasts, who opposed the veneration of images. Paradoxically, it was the Eastern Christian emperor Leo who forbade the practice, and it was because John lived in Muslim territory that his enemies could not silence him. Second, he is famous for his treatise, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, a summary of the Greek Fathers (of which he became the last). It is said that this book is to Eastern schools what the Summa of Aquinas became to the West. Thirdly, he is known as a poet, one of the two greatest of the Eastern Church, the other being Romanus the Melodist. His devotion to the Blessed Mother and his sermons on her feasts are well known.

John defended the Church’s understanding of the veneration of images and explained the faith of the Church in several other controversies. For over 30 years he combined a life of prayer with these defences and his other writings. His holiness expressed itself in putting his literary and preaching talents at the service of the Lord.

“The saints must be honoured as friends of Christ and children and heirs of God, as John the theologian and evangelist says: ‘But as many as received him, he gave them the power to be made the sons of God....’ Let us carefully observe the manner of life of all the apostles, martyrs, ascetics and just men who announced the coming of the Lord. And let us emulate their faith, charity, hope, zeal, life, patience under suffering, and perseverance unto death, so that we may also share their crowns of glory” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 9.27-31)

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, Have mercy on us, Son of David! When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, Do you believe that I am able to do this? Yes, Lord, they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, According to your faith will it be done to you; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, See that no-one knows about this. But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.

Christ have Mercy!
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)

Advent is the season of the liturgical year when we think of Christ’s coming into our lives, and the Church presents for our contemplation various Gospel scenes which illustrate features of his coming. Let us then place ourselves in the scene of today’s Gospel in which our Lord comes into the lives of two blind men. We are told that he “went on from there” and “two blind men followed him, calling out, Have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Greek, eleeson). Now, let us remember another occasion when the blind man Bar Timaeus (Mark 10:47), sitting by the roadside begging, heard that Jesus was passing by and immediately and vociferously called out to him that he show mercy. The prayer was the same as that of the two narrated in today’s Gospel (eleeson). The crowds could not stop him shouting out for Jesus. As soon as the sound of his cries reached the ears of Jesus, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. That is to say, Christ responded immediately to the blind man’s appeal. He was brought before him, was asked what he wanted, and then immediately healed according to his faith. That blind man — whose name the author of the Gospel knew well — followed Jesus on the way. Our Lord had gained yet another disciple who perhaps was known in the infant Church. The two blind men in our Gospel today also appeal for mercy. The implication is that in their case our Lord did not stop but carried on, for we read that they followed him and it was only when he went indoors that the two blind men got to him and presented their petition. Our Lord asked if they believed he could do this for them. At their saying they did believe this, he immediately cured them. The point, though, is that our Lord’s response is different in each case. In the one there was no delay, in the other there was a delay, requiring persistence on the part of the two blind men. We remember our Lord and the Canaanite woman (Matt 15: 21-28). She pursued him with her cries on behalf of her daughter. But he did not answer her a word. Finally she “cornered” him, we might say, and had it out. Our Lord praised her for her great faith and persistence despite the initial rebuff, and sent her off, her daughter healed.

Two things we are surely reminded of by our Gospel passage today (Matthew 9: 27-31). The first thing is that Christ comes bringing the mercy of God. The entire Scriptures reveal that God is a God of mercy. He is rich in mercy. The world and human life surges and throbs with need and suffering. It hurts, it limps, it struggles and it staggers along. The world, we might say, needs a walking stick and two crutches besides. Human life presents itself as a constant patch-up job. The car is always breaking down. The lights are always failing. Why is this so? Why is this beautiful world and this grand thing we call the life of man so often gasping for breath? We would never know the answer to this question were it not revealed. The fundamental reason for the suffering that plagues the life of man is man’s own original and personal sin. Because of sin he is bereft and he is adrift. But God our Creator is rich in mercy. He is full of compassion. It is Christ who reveals the love and power of God, and this loving power, in the face of human suffering, reveals itself in mercy. Jesus Christ is our merciful Lord. To him, to Jesus, we can say with the two blind men as with Bar Timaeus — Christ (i.e., Son of David!), have mercy! The Church makes the prayer of the two blind men of our Gospel today and that of Bar Timaeus her own prayer at the start of every Mass, during the penitential rite. We all say, Christ, have mercy (Christe eleeson)! I remember watching a Polish movie and in it a Polish Christian died under a hail of arrows from the Islamic fighters. As he went down he repeated out loud, Christe eleeson! In all our needs we ought turn to Christ the incarnate God, appealing for mercy and confident in his power and love. But there is a second point we are reminded of in today’s Gospel passage. In our requests we are not having recourse to magic. It is God to whom we address ourselves, and he is free and he knows what is best for each of us. Christ kept going when the two in our Gospel today appealed to him. They had to follow and keep asking. So did the Canaanite woman. What would have happened if they had thought that he was not interested in helping them or that in fact he could not? They would not have been healed.

All prayer involves an exercise and a test of faith, especially, perhaps, the prayer of petition. The test of our faith will come when we ask and do not seem immediately to receive. The instances in Scripture just mentioned involved a delay by Christ in his response to their prayer. If there is a seeming silence on the part of Christ in respect to our prayers, will we give up on him and on the revelation that he is all-powerful and rich in mercy? Let us notice a detail: the two blind beggars, having been granted their request, were not obedient to our Lord’s strict command to keep silent as to their healing. Let us pray with persistent and obedient faith in the divine mercy and Christ will answer our prayer in the way that is best for us and most in accord with his saving plan.

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