Read the homily preached by The Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon OP, Archbishop of Liverpool, at the Adoremus Pilgrim Masses – Sunday 9 September 2018 at 9.30am and 11.30am in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool.
I travelled through some of the towns of the Decapolis when I was on pilgrimage in Jordan some years ago and I was bowled over by the remains of these ancient Graeco-Roman cities. They are still magnificent even though in ruins. The desert sands haven’t totally obliterated them, and a visitor gets a wonderful impression of theatres and main streets, of temples and meeting squares. These were places of pagan culture and trade. In fact, they existed not just to colonise the areas southeast of the Sea of Galilee but to be important stopping places on the main trade route to Arabia and the Red Sea. This shattered my idea of Jesus preaching to a crowd of believers in Jerusalem or in the relative peace of the meadows and pastures of Galilee. Jesus is moving through an area whose population is largely composed of gentiles and pagans in busy cities and towns. He is moving amongst people who are deaf to the word of God.
Let us ponder for a moment our present situation: the parallel is obvious: our society is deaf to the word of God too. When Jesus preached and healed in these cities it would have been in an alien culture. Well, I think that our society is more ‘hard of hearing’ than deaf. We have to learn to shout louder.
When Jesus encounters the deaf man, who is also dumb (the two go together), he doesn’t stay in the crowd but ‘he takes him aside’. In fact, this is emphasised by adding ‘in private’ and ‘away from the crowd’. Jesus goes to him in the midst of the crowd and finds a moment and a space to be there just for him, and him alone. Surely this is what happens to us in the Eucharist. This is a moment of personal encounter when we are seen by God as unique and special and his Son comes to us to heal us, to feed us and to make us whole.
That is our experience. We are lost in the crowd in what is a secular age where Christianity and its ideals linger but are no longer the common basis of our society. Sometimes we feel lost as though we don’t belong in our own homeland or we are simply alone. We find ourselves experiencing an ‘aloneness’ that may come from being unemployed or from a broken marriage; maybe because we are striving to live Christian lives against the pressures of modern life. Yet all the time we are surrounded by people. We are in the crowd and deafened by the noise around us. The noise of the media, of music and traffic. Noise (I remember one of my engineering teachers defining noise as unwanted sound) which fills our ears and minds to the exclusion of what we want or need to hear, the voice of God – the still, small voice of calm. In the words of the American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier:
‘Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.’
During the last couple of days, we have discovered afresh that Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist comes to us to heal our hurt and open our hearts. Even though we are now in this full cathedral, or yesterday in the arena amidst thousands of people, Jesus has taken us aside, in private and away from the crowd. That’s the beauty of the Eucharist: it is always personal as well as communal. It penetrates our hearts so that we become closer to Jesus; we become what we eat.
In the fourth century the great early Christian father Augustine wrote, ‘If you receive the Eucharist well, you are what you eat. (Since you are the Body of Christ and his members, it is your mystery which you receive. As you come to Communion, you hear the words “The Body of Christ” and you answer “Amen”. Be, therefore, members of Christ that your “Amen” may be true. Be what you see. Receive what you already are.’ (Easter sermon 272) In this profound paragraph, Augustine says that the Eucharist is nourishment to us for what we already are. We are already united to Christ through faith and baptism. Each time we receive this Sacrament we grow in that shared life of Christ. We become more of the person that we already are.
The Church exhorts us to extend this union to the whole of Christian life. So that constantly reflecting on the gift that we have received, we should carry on our daily work of thanksgiving, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and should bring forth fruits of rich charity. (cf Para 25 Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass).
So just as with the deaf and dumb man whose ears were opened and whose tongue was free to speak, so we are transformed by the Eucharist. We are now able to cope with the crowd and the noise, because the centre of our life is now Jesus and the Good News that he proclaims. Our ears which are blocked by the pressure of noise are unblocked by the voice of Jesus. In Jesus we can find the space to receive, to think, test our opinions against the words of the one who spoke with authority. In the space that an encounter with Jesus gives us we can be become more like him and feel encouraged to change and to speak.
Isaiah encourages us; he says, ‘Have courage’, because the Lord is coming, and the earth and its people will flourish. This message of hope has been fulfilled in Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection but still has to come to fulfilment in us. As a Christian community we may say that we can no longer hold our heads high because of the current scandals and cover-ups, so let us keep our heads bowed in penance but stand erect nonetheless. Maybe our words won’t carry the same authority as before, but we still have a gospel to proclaim, and let us continue to do that by our actions as well as words so that others may see Jesus in us. Let us shout above the noise and by our proclamation invite others to be with the Lord and find healing and peace.
Even though we may be humiliated as members of Christ’s Body at this moment in time, we should always remember that it is His body, His church that we love. Let us then go forth with open ear and without ambiguity proclaim to the world the love and healing power of God in his Son Jesus Christ.