Saturday, March 30, 2013

Christ Leaves No One Behind

Easter Sunday

“We leave no one behind!” Does this expression sound familiar? It should – you’ve heard it before from the lips of the stereotypical mud encrusted, battle worn, biceps bulging, tobacco chewing sergeant or commandant, who rallies his troops to make one last almost suicidal ditch to rescue captured fellow comrades or to recover the bodies of fallen heroes. The words seem almost magical and powerful in being able to pierce, invigorate and inspire even the most faint-hearted and exhausted of troops and fill them with new fighting spirit. Some believe the popular Hollywood inspired version is a variation of one of the basic pillars of what soldiers calls the Warrior Ethos: “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” Obama Barack, president of the U.S.A., gave a further twist to it when speaking of his plans to move U.S troops out of Iraq, “We don’t turn back.  We leave no one behind.  We pull each other up.”

On Easter Sunday, the Sunday of all Sundays, we celebrate not just the power of rhetoric, we celebrate a reality, a truth – it is this, starting with Jesus Christ, God affirms that He leaves no one behind! God has not abandoned his only begotten Son to death. In fact, Christ is actually on a secret mission of the Father. He accomplishes the mission of God, a mission once considered vastly more difficult than the worst Mission Impossible assignment you can imagine. That mission is to vanquish the old enemy of humanity – sin, and it’s most powerful minion, it’s prison warden, death – and rescue man from its clutches. And the only way to do it was to be thrown into same prison. The empty tomb is God’s smoking gun – it is the definitive sign of Jesus breaking free from the prison of Hades, Death, he tramples down the gates and the walls that have kept generations incarcerated, and he has triumphantly set us free! The significance of Easter is that Jesus is announcing not just to Christians, but to the whole world, and not just to this generation but to all generations – “We leave no one behind!”

We affirm this truth whenever we recite that ancient baptismal creed, the Apostles Creed, “he descended into hell.” The word ‘hell’ here of course did not refer to the state of final damnation, but was rather a reference to the realm of the dead (the Greeks called it “Hades” and the Jews “Sheol”). The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "By the expression 'He descended into Hell', the Apostles' Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil 'who has the power of death' (Hebrews 2:14). In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened Heaven's gates for the just who had gone before him."

This descent should not be seen as just the natural result of his human death. It is more. Christ willingly died for a purpose; and his descent to the dead is part of that purpose. Christ goes to Hades on a mission. He goes, tradition has it, to the limbo of the Fathers, where the souls of the just slept in death, waiting for the gates of heaven to be re-opened on the day of salvation.  In other words Christ goes to the realm of the dead to announce to them that their salvation has come and that heaven has opened to them at last, and lead them forth. Christ’s mission is one of liberation, from the jaws of death; and the dead heard the good news before the living. In early Christian iconography, Jesus is depicted as storming Hell, the gates of this prison lies trampled beneath his feet, and he begins the salvation or the freeing of all its inmates beginning with Adam and Eve. But Adam does not merely represents himself. He stands for all humanity. Therefore all have the opportunity to hear the word proclaimed and respond to it. In Christ no one is overlooked or left behind.

An ancient homily for Holy Saturday, whose author is unknown, celebrates this in vivid terms. While on earth there is silence, under the earth (as it were) Christ is emptying Hades with solemnity. The new Adam goes to rescue the first Adam, his father in the flesh, with the command, “awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead”. Adam and his progeny can now rise from the dead because Christ’s human death transforms death for all the children of Adam. For just as what happened in Adam (sin) happened for us all, so too what happened in Christ’s human flesh happened for us all: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Or as the ancient homilist has Christ put it, “Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person”. Death had, as it were, led humanity into a walled-off, dead-end street; Christ now breaks through that barrier so that death might now launch humankind onto the highway to heaven. For it was for heaven, not for Hades, that God through Christ made us: “I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld”. In Christ no one is overlooked or left behind.

At the Orthodox Feast of the Resurrection, the Holy Pascha, the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, one of the greatest doctors of the Church, is read at the end of Orthros (Matins, today it is substituted with the Office of Readings). In the powerful and moving words of this ancient homily, the victory of Christ is announced:

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into Hades and took Hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions." It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
"O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?"
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.

Necessary sin and Happy Fault

Easter Vigil

O truly necessary sin of Adam,
Destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault that earned so great,
So glorious a Redeemer

Do you recognise this line? You should. It is found in the ExsĂșltet (the Easter Proclamation) which I had just sung at the beginning of this Vigil service. Perhaps, most people would have missed it unless you caught the oxymoronic contradiction found in two expressions therein: “necessary sin” and “happy fault”.  The joy of these words is surprising, since we’re accustomed to think of Adam and Eve’s sin as a great tragedy, as a curse which was inflicted on humanity, hardly a matter for rejoicing. Some even feel that this phrase is dangerously ambivalent and may risk being taken out of context,  and used as a masterful piece of rationalisation that justifies sinning. So, if we consider sin as abhorrent to God and something which separates us from Him, what ‘sin’ could be considered ‘necessary’? How could any ‘fault’ or mistake be considered happy?  Why, then, does the Church through her liturgy dare to speak of the Fall as a “happy fault” or a “necessary sin?”

The Latin expression felix culpa (happy fault) is derived from the writings of St Augustine, whose personal life was testimony to the truth of this maxim. In order for St Augustine to have been one of the greatest converts to Christianity, one of its greatest theologians and pastor, he had to start off being a great sinner. This was obviously the case: here was a man who had been schooled by his own father to frequent brothels since adolescence. As an adult, he would keep a woman in concubinage, what we would describe as a ‘sex slave’ in modern terms. He then got caught up with a whole lot of pseudo religious philosophies and ideologies that mitigated or even negated the effects of sin, thus presenting him with an ideological justification for his depraved libertine lifestyle. St Augustine was truly great sinner. But then grace touched him, moved him and finally transformed him into one of the Church’s greatest saints.  In speaking about the source of original sin, Augustine writes, “For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.”

What St Augustine meant here was that the Fall of Adam was from one point of view fortunate, since without it humankind could not have experienced the unsurpassable joy of the redemption. The reason is that through the redemption of Jesus Christ we have been restored to the supernatural state in a way far surpassing in glory what we could have known had there been no Fall. From Adam’s sin came the glory of Jesus Christ. If Adam and Eve never fell, Christ would never have needed to come. And so God allowed the loss of perfect human bliss through the original sin of Adam and Eve in order to bring about a greater, divine bliss for humanity (cf. 2 Peter 1:4)! The remedy dished out by God goes far beyond restoring us to that Edenic state! God never goes backwards. He's not taking us back to Eden.

If you are not convinced of the veracity of this doctrine, the whole of scripture stands as irrefutable evidence. By eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve are now prohibited from tasting the fruit of the Tree of Life which would have guaranteed them immortality. But here comes the ‘felix culpa’ bit – If man had not been denied immortality at this stage, he would still have to suffer an eternity of sin, an eternity of the effects of sin – alienation, suffering, pain, etc. But death would at least provide him with the temporary relief. We would still need to wait for the coming of Christ to complete the cure.

Let’s take a little fast forward ride through the rest of the Old Testament. If humanity had not sin by attempting to build the Tower of Babel, we would not be blessed with the myriad of cultures, civilisations, languages that have emerged throughout our human history. If Joseph had not been betrayed by his brothers and sold off to slavery, he would not have been their saviour, when the land was struck by famine. If Moses had not run away from Egypt as an act of cowardice, he would not have been chosen by God to lead his people to freedom. If David had not committed a transgression and adultery with Uriah’s wife, Solomon would not have been born. If the Temple had not been destroyed, the Church, the Body of Christ, who is the New and Perfect Temple, would have remained a dream. If Judas had not betrayed Jesus, Christ would not have been able to redeem the world through his sacrifice on the Cross.  

But this scenario also begs the question, Why did God not prevent Adam and Eve from sinning? I believe the difficulty in answering this question lies in a misunderstanding of Christ's redemption of our sins. That misunderstanding lies in the fact that they think that the incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus constituted God's "Plan B" for creation. In other words, people often assume that the original, perfect state of Adam and Eve before the Fall was "Plan A" and then when Adam and Eve sinned and were booted from Eden, God had to come up with a "Plan B" to undo the damage. When the exsultet calls Adam's sin "necessary", it intends to completely undercut this mistaken notion. There's a huge mystery here: that ponderous mystery of God's preknowledge and how it ties in to our free will. While God never actively wills sin and disobedience, He made the option possible in order that we could freely choose to love Him instead. Yet Adam and Eve's decision was never unknown to God, nor was the outcome. From all eternity God knew that His rational creatures would choose to rebel against Him, and His divine plan incorporated Adam's sin from the very foundations of the world. The Incarnation was not Plan B. God becoming Man so that we could participate in the divine life of God through grace was the idea all along!

Through, Baptism we are inserted into this great paradox, this great mystery of redemption. God is doing a new thing; the same New Thing He has been unfolding from all eternity; the same New Thing that unfolded at the Cross and was confirmed in the Resurrection, and which is consummated in us through his graces to us, especially our rebirth in Baptism and our sustenance of Himself in the Eucharist! We are no longer mere children of Adam; through baptism we have been made adopted children of God. We are no longer just promised an eternity in Eden; through baptism, we are heirs of eternal life in heaven. By our Baptism, the Son of God has made us integral members of His Mystical Body. As members of Christ’s Mystical Body, we will be drawn with Him into the Blessed Trinity itself! Then will be fulfilled that astonishing promise of sacred Scripture: we will “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). This vastly exceeds what God would have done for unfallen man.

All too often we run from our mistakes, reject them or simply live in denial of them. The failed work is quickly set aside.  And worse, all too often initial mistakes, initial failures discourage us and prevent us from moving forward. The Paschal Mystery, the Mystery which Good Friday and Easter reveals, demands that we learn to recognise that hidden within every mistake, every human error, every shortcoming, every failure and even in the greatest of falls is the seed of the resurrection – where even sin can be transformed by a single moment of grace. Indeed, rather than cast aside his fallen creation, God reaches into the failure and tragedy of human sinfulness to redeem us. This is the Mystery which claims us in Christ and the power of this same Mystery is what heals us in the sacraments. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thank God it's Friday

Good Friday

Social networking, the likes of Twitter and Facebook, has enabled many of us, including the pathologically shy and introverted, to articulate what we would have normally kept private. We give vent to our pent-up frustrations by ‘shouting out’, expressing every emotion for the world to see.  Just take a look at Twitter box or Facebook page on a Monday morning and count how many times you see a similar statement like this: “I can’t wait until the weekend,” or “When’s it going to be Friday,” And of course the familiar initialism at the close of the week, ‘TGIF’ (or ‘Thank God It’s Friday’, for the uninitiated).

What is it about Fridays that makes them so special? Why this euphoric fascination with Friday? Here are some reasons why people think Friday is cool: We get to stay up late. It’s an opportunity to catch up on much needed sleep. It means having drinks with the guys at the local watering hole. It’s that much needed break after a tiring and often bad week (except for priest). Or as Rebecca Black sang on that YouTube music video that had been described as “the worst song ever”, ‘Friday’ means “Party, Party, Party!”

But for us Christians, there is one supreme reason that beats all the rest. We say without hesitation, “Thank God it’s Friday” because it was on Friday that Our Lord Jesus died for us. “Thank God it’s Friday” because the instrument of death, the cross, became the means of our salvation! Good Friday marks the day when wrath and mercy met at the cross. The Cross which put God to death became the Tree of Life which brought man to life.

The most quintessentially Catholic object of devotion is a crucifix-a cross with the image of Christ's body nailed to it. It’s possible, likely in fact, that you have come here with positive thoughts about the cross, even warm feelings about the cross. Over the years, many Christians have suffered from a cultural romanticisation or sanitisation of the cross. It no longer evokes horror or terror, only loving endearment and pious devotion.  We regard it as a sign of blessing, and certainly not as a symbol of a curse. You see Jesus hanging there and see a wonderful example of compassion and sacrifice. You find in the death of Jesus an inspiration to forgive and be kind to others. And for others, the overriding emotion in your heart in pity. You feel sorry for Jesus. It’s common for people to turn the cross into nothing but a sad martyrdom or a sentimental statement about love.

But these sentiments do not begin to explain the cross. The readings for today, especially the Passion taken from the Gospel of St John, point however to a far more profound theological truth that extends beyond our emotions of sadness and pity. I dare say that most people know something about Good Friday, but not enough, and often get distracted by the lesser or more trivial things. Well here’s the central truth: on the cross Christ redeemed us from the curse of sin by becoming a curse for us. That Christ became a curse is what makes Good Friday good.

What did it mean to be cursed? Think of the scene in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. God warned Adam and Eve that if they were to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would suffer the curse of death. But our first parents refused to believe God’s warning and chose rather to rely on the words of the cunning serpent. They believed that by eating its fruits, they would no longer have to depend on God. They sort self-reliance over obedience. They imagined themselves as masters of their own destiny and be forever free of God’s interference. That mistaken belief is at the heart of every sin and serves as the perennial disease that infects man till today. Little did they know that this would be their curse, a curse inherited by the whole of humanity. After taking a bite of the forbidden fruit Adam is cursed, Eve is cursed, the serpent is cursed, and the ground is cursed. The effect of the curse is catastrophic – an impassable chasm now exist between man and God; it meant the loss of communion with God, each other, and the created universe.  The curse bars us from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life and thus man lost the gift of immortality. Death is now our lot.

But Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross has changed all that. Our wounded race could not begin to attempt such a massive task of healing the rift.  Man could never lift the curse on his own. So the Father sent His Eternal Word to become man and accomplish the task in our place, to substitute for us.  For the immortal, infinite God to empty himself and unite himself to a limited, vulnerable human nature was already a feat of unimaginable love and humility.  But for redemption to be complete, the hero would have to withstand the greatest fury that hell and fallen humanity could hurl against him – the cross. If death should come from self-reliance of man, life would come from obedience to God, even execution on the cross.

We should remember each time we see a cross that the Cross of Jesus' crucifixion was an emblem of physical anguish and personal defilement, not triumph-of debasement and humiliation, not glory-of degradation and shame, not beauty. Invented by the Assyrians, crucifixion was used as a means of subjugation and to instill fear and terror among the vanquished nations. It was the policy of the Roman Empire to adopt the best from conquered peoples. In this case, they chose the cross and found crucifixion an excellent tool of intimidation.  Incidentally, crucifixion was deemed so horrible that Roman law forbade its use on Roman citizens, even traitors.  It was reserved only for slaves and conquered peoples.

The humiliation of being stripped naked to die in a public spectacle was particularly loathsome to Jews for whom public nudity was an abomination.  More odious than the shame, the condemned was also deemed accursed. According to Deuteronomy 21:23 everyone hanged on a tree was cursed. It was punishment due for grievous crimes. The New Testament often uses “tree” rather than “cross”. Jesus thus came under this curse. Yet, Saint Peter explains more clearly what was involved: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Peter 2:24) Jesus accepted the “curse” we should have received, and underwent death in our place –so that we might not die but live.

What the Son of God endured for us was the depth of ugliness and humiliation. We need to be reminded of the tremendous personal cost of love. Everyone knows the cross is about the love of God. But it is no cheap, sentimental, fuzzy kind of love. It is a costly, deep, rich, free, painful kind of love. Pope Emeritus Benedict, when he handed the WYD cross to the Australian pilgrims on Palm Sunday two years ago, said, “The Cross itself is the true Tree of Life. We do not find life by possessing it, but by giving it. Love is a gift of oneself, and for this reason it is the way of true life symbolised by the Cross."

We can say “Thank God it’s Friday” with a sigh of relief. Whew! The week is over. Done with the daily grind. Once again the end of the week came just in time before the breakdown. No struggling with the snooze button tomorrow morning. Friday night we can relax, unwind, and enjoy thoughts of a weekend without appointments and traffic jams. But today, we say “Thank God it’s Friday” because it’s God who’s on the Cross. Today, we finally experience the ultimate break – not just from the tedium of a tiring week, but a break from sin, from death, and from darkness. Only God could heal us—save us—from sin and all the darkness it brings into life. Good Friday is good because the Word of God in the flesh—Jesus Christ—could endure on our behalf all the suffering and death that is the consequence of human sin. All the pain, emptiness and despair from betrayal, injustice, illness, lost and lack of love is brought to the Cross by Jesus. He assumed the curse we had wrought through our disobedience, by offering himself as a sacrifice of perfect obedience. He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24). For this reason, we say without hesitation, without the slightest regret, without any trace of doubt, ‘Thank God it’s Friday”!

During the Vespers celebrated in Orthodox Churches throughout the world today, the following hymn is sung, a hymn that helps us understand and celebrate the profound depth of this truth, the awesome mystery of Christ's passion and death.

A dread and marvelous mystery we see come to pass this day.
He whom none may touch is seized;
He who looses Adam from the curse is bound.
He who tries the hearts and inner thoughts of man is unjustly brought to trial.
He who closed the abyss is shut in prison.
He before whom the powers of heaven stand with trembling, stands before Pilate;
The Creator is struck by the hand of His creature.
He who comes to judge the living and the dead is condemned to the Cross;
The Destroyer of hell is enclosed in a tomb.
O Thou who dost endure all these things in Thy tender love,
who hast saved all men from the curse,
O long-suffering Lord, glory to Thee.

(Sticheron of Vespers)

On the Same Page - The Eucharist and the Poor

Holy Thursday

I’ve been hearing a lot of this lately from brother priests, “This new Pope doesn’t seem to pay much attention to the liturgy.” I guess this is less an observation of a fact than an analysis suggesting that there is a paradigm shift: that Pope Francis has shifted the focus away from rich elaborate liturgical celebrations of his predecessor to more realistic issues of ‘bread and butter.’ Prophets are already predicting that the Holy Father’s tendency toward simplicity will usher in the death of the Benedictine reforms in liturgy. They are quick to point out that on the day of his election, the pope said that he wanted a church that was poor and was with the poor. Applying a hermeneutics of rupture, they see this as a departure of the pious elitism of the past to a more humane solidarity with the poor and the weakest.  Add to this claim the caricature of our new Pope as a man with the following traits: no-frills simplicity, ‘get your hands dirty’ style of pastoral work; a man who is prepared to work on-the-ground. This is welcomed news for those who wish to be free of the rigours of liturgical rubrics, but instills fear and anxiety among the more liturgically nuanced.

But liturgical rubrics are the least of our problems. The above observations, unfortunately, also seem to create or assume a false dichotomy between the priesthood and the Eucharist, between the Eucharist and the Church’s option for the poor. The truth of the matter is this: there is no dichotomy, there is no contradiction, and there is no separation. It would be a mistake to presume that a profound love for the Eucharist would mean neglecting one’s social duties or even disdain for the poor. Likewise, it would be erroneous to think that one could honestly love and serve the poor, without deriving the necessary sustenance from the Eucharist. The absolute wrong response, here, is to cast off the sacred liturgy as something overblown and impractical, and a waste of resources which could be better spent on alleviating the sufferings of the poor. We must never forget that this was the ideological position of Judas too. Our celebration on Holy Thursday, however, affirms the central truth that there is no separation between the Eucharist and service of one’s neighbour, because together they articulate the two-fold dimensions of the great commandment of love. The Eucharist and the poor are inseparable. Pope Francis is certainly a Pope for the poor, but like his predecessors since time immemorial, he cannot but remain as a Pope of the Eucharist. On the day where the Church commemorates the institution of the priesthood as well as the Eucharist, the liturgy’s dramatic representation of the Last Supper shows how Jesus himself translates the Eucharist into a radical service, by washing his disciples’ feet.

Perhaps, one needs to go beyond the rhetoric that attempts to set Pope Francis diametrically against his predecessor, the eminent Benedict. The recent fraternal meeting of these two great popes has put to rest rumours that there is enmity and competition between them. In fact, there is only tenderness and fraternal charity. An archival video on YouTube shows the then Cardinal Mario Bergoglio speaking on the intrinsic link between the priesthood and the Eucharist. This certainly refutes the claims of those who wish to paint him as someone who will steer the Church away from its central emphasis on the Eucharist. I would, however, like to bring you back to the pontificate of their common predecessor, the charismatic Blessed John Paul II.  Solidarity with the poor was a major theme in the social teaching of Blessed John Paul II during his papacy, so was the Eucharist. He affirmed an intrinsic link between solidarity with the poor and the Eucharist. In the document which launched the Year of the Eucharist, John Paul wrote “The Eucharist is not merely an expression of communion in the Church’s life; it is also a project of solidarity for all of humanity.”  While highlighting the intrinsic connection between the Eucharist and the option for the poor, John Paul did not compromise on the insistence of celebrating good liturgies in accordance with the rubrics. He urged obedience of liturgical norms and suggested that every local parish use the Eucharistic year to study in depth the church's rules on proper liturgy. In 2004, he wrote to the youth on the occasion of the 19th World Youth Day: "Dear friends, if you learn to discover Jesus in the Eucharist, you will also know how to discover him in your brothers and sisters, particularly in the very poor. It is with such inner freedom and such burning charity that Jesus teaches us to find him in others, first of all in the disfigured faces of the poor.”

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta also provides a beautiful example of someone who saw no contradiction but only an integral unity between the Eucharist and solidarity with the poor. We can draw inspiration from her life and her Missionary Sisters of Charity. They became famous for simple acts of mercy among the dying poor. The healing of the poor is not the primary goal, neither is the eradication of the causes of an insufficient social system. The body of the man dying alone on the street is the sacred flesh of the crucified Christ. An intimate and mystical union between the body of Christ and the bodies of the homeless poor of the third world is recognised and revered. If someone is brought into the merciful care of the sisters and somehow escapes the shadow of death which brooded over him, there is a victory. And if he comes in and breathes his last breath holding the hand of a sister of Jesus, there is victory. The body of Jesus intertwined with that of the poor has been revered, contemplated, touched, as a priest who handles the Eucharistic species in the liturgy.

In the statutes of her order, the Missionaries of Charity, the sisters and brothers affirm that the celebration of the Eucharist is the centre of their life. “It is the highest expression and strongest support of our life. We have been called to a life which is inspired by this Sacrament. It is the beginning and end of our actions; the source and consummation of our service to God and a principle incentive to be servants of the poor. We must grow in daily knowledge of this mystery, and in a greater love of the Lord who gives Himself in it.”

Some of the Fathers of the Church, such as St. John Chrysostom, were very clear and emphatic in their pronouncements. St. John Chrysostom said: “Do you wish to honour the Body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: “This is my Body” is the same who said: “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food,” and “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also for me.” Hence, we see the inseparable twofold presence of Jesus, in the Bread of Life and in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.

This year’s Holy Thursday liturgy will take on an additional hue as Pope Francis celebrates it among juvenile detainees of Rome. There will be those who will read this as another radical departure from past practices, and there will also be those who recognise the Pope as merely giving flesh to another aspect of the liturgy of Holy Thursday, which has ancient roots – solidarity with the poor and the weakest. In a similar way, the foot-washing of John’s gospel merely brings out the significance of the Eucharistic ritual in Matthew, Mark and Luke; that the Eucharist means service. The former was never meant to be seen as a departure or even a correction of the latter. In approaching the liturgy, Pope Francis seems always to have in mind its connection to real effects, both in the soul but also in the flesh. Some have already acknowledged that if Benedict reclaimed the Spirit of the Liturgy, then perhaps next for the Church under the leadership of Francis is to focus on its Flesh. Pope Francis does have something to teach us, and I firmly believe it is a lesson that is much needed in the world: a call to simplicity and personal poverty.  There is blessing in simplicity, there is humility in simplicity, there is sacredness in simplicity. At the end of the day, simplicity teaches us that it’s never about choosing between good liturgy or proclaiming the good news to the poor; it’s about both!  Both Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta would be laughing at us if it were not.