8 February 2009

Fifth Sunday of the Year (B)

Introduction

It is good to be here today with you to celebrate the Mass and to remember God’s great gift to us in the apparitions of Our Blessed Lady at Lourdes to St Bernadette. The Gospel tells us of the healing message of the Good News of Jesus and how his kingdom is already being established in this world. In this present age, in this particular area we are called to be heralds and bearers of the Good News of Jesus. This means that we have to know what the Good News is, or rather who the Good News is – Jesus the Holy One of God, the Son of God.

For the times we have not been bearers of the Good News, we ask for pardon and forgiveness and the grace to know Christ Jesus better in the days ahead.

Lord, you are good
Lord, have mercy.

Lord you heal and bind up
Christ, have mercy.

Lord, you are loving.
Lord, have mercy.

Homily

It’s amazing the number of people I meet as I am going around and about the diocese, and one of the first questions that I am frequently asked is “Are you going to Lourdes again this year?” No matter what the financial climate, Our Lady will still draw people to come to Lourdes somehow. And Lourdes is not the only place that people are drawn to – Fatima, Medjurgorje, Knock. In going on Pilgrimage people are trying to find “the Holy” and somehow want to touch it so that we can be healed, just like the woman in the gospel touching Jesus’ garment.

In the end we all know that we are in need of healing. Some people’s need is obvious and plain for all to see, a bit like Job in the first reading. What a graphic description he gives of sickness, both physical and spiritual: Lying on my bed I wonder, ‘When will it be day?’ Risen I think, ‘How slowly evening comes!’ Restlessly I fret till twilight falls.
All of us feel like this at times, it is not just as a result of physical sickness. From time to time, we sense a restlessness deep down in our very spirit; and that restlessness is made a thousand times worse when there is physical sickness and anxiety about the outcome. Again, quoting from that first reading: Swifter than a weaver’s shuttle my days have passed, and vanished, leaving no hope behind.

So it is no wonder when, in today’s gospel, Jesus appears in Simon-Peter’s village, and cures his mother-in-law, that the whole town came crowding round the door, and he cured many. The account continues: he also cast out many devils… but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was.

During this year, we are listening to St Mark’s gospel at Mass. Mark is a very direct writer. He does not beat about the bush, he says what he wants to and says it in a few words. There is also a real urgency in his gospel, you can see it in today’s passage – Jesus goes straight to Simon-Peter’s house, cures one, cures more, casts out many devils, gets up long before dawn the next day to pray and despite the crowds wanting to see him, he moves on, continues preaching and casting out devils. That’s today’s gospel in a nutshell. He wants to get around the whole area so that everyone can hear the message, so that all can experience who he is; and knowing who he is will bring them the healing power of the Good News, and to prove it Jesus performs many miracles of healing. But the good news is in knowing Jesus, that he is the Holy One of God, the Christ of God, the Son of God, the Son of Man, whose kingdom is already breaking into this world.

In the second reading at Mass Saint Paul says to the people of Corinth: Do you know what my reward is? It is this; in my preaching to be able to offer the Good News free. Paul recognised that he was able to offer people something money could not buy. In telling them about Jesus and helping them to come to know him and enter into friendship with him, the people of Corinth too would begin to experience the healing power of the Good News, that Jesus is the Christ of God, the Holy One.

Like Paul, we are called to be bearers of the Good News to all those we meet. But in order to tell them the Good News, we have to know what the Good News is ourselves; or rather, we have to know WHO the Good News is.

Like the disciples, and Peter in particular, there comes a time in all our lives when we hear the Lord asking us the simple question: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ There comes a time when we have to move from a faith which is based on what others have told us to a faith which is based on our personal experience of the Lord. There comes a time in all our live when we have to move from knowing about the Lord to knowing the Lord himself. It is only at this point that our faith can begin to truly motivate us. It is in these moments that all our actions, all our plans, all our endeavours will begin to flow from our relationship, our commitment, our love of the Lord.

During Lent I am going to move around the diocese gathering our young people together in Hull, York and Middlesbrough and I am going to put this same question to them – looking at the face of Jesus I am going to ask them in the name of Jesus, ‘Who do you say I am?’ Over the first four weeks of Lent we will come together to meet Jesus in a personal way and make our faith into a living relationship with the person of Jesus. Together we will listen, really listen to what Jesus says to us through the gospel of St Mark. With the grace of God, we will rediscover and bring to life our faith-relationship with Jesus Christ who died to save each one of us.

I invite you to do the same in your own homes, in your personal prayer and quiet time. Begin now to ask yourself that same question’ Who is Jesus for me?’ What does my faith mean? Is it central to my life, my decisions, my motivation? Lent is God’s gift to us; a time to take stock, start again, put the past behind us and an opportunity to come to know who Jesus is in a personal and real way. May advice to you is to grasp this opportunity with both hands.

And we pray:

God of Good News, in every time and place you have sent men and women who have proclaimed your mighty deed. Through the Scriptures you continue to make yourself known. Send us preachers who are on fire with the message of the Gospel, that we might be moved to repentance and a deeper faith. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.