Living in a country of Catholic culture, many might think I’m joking when I say that Maltese youth are afraid to say their Catholic. In fact it is no joke. In today’s society many are like the apostles in today’s reading from the Gospel according to St Luke, afraid, shy, even frightened to say that their Catholic. One might ask:”But why?” There are various reasons. Either one doesn’t know how to defend the Faith, or one takes it for granted the fact that he/she was baptised or else one doesn’t know the richness of Catholic Faith. These might be some of the reasons, of coarse there are many more. In the face of such a crisis Christ asks us a key question:”Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” In fact our response to Christ mustn’t be one of timidness, shyness or doubt, but one filled with courage and faith. Courage, to respond a question about Catholicism, courage to defend the Catholic Church in words but most importantly in deed. Defense willed with love and charity. Faith, in embracing our Lord and the ways of the Lord, it was he who protected the Church, sot that it may be a beacon of truth and love for all who seek. History show us that the Church had its fair share of difficult and challenging of times. But Christ was always present as he had promised Peter and with Peter all of us as Catholics:”And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” So next time you’re afraid to show your Catholic faith, to the world, remember what St Francis of Assisi said: All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” You’re the candle, you’re the Catholic, you’re a member of the Church, persecuted and despised by the enemies of Truth.
St. Mary Magdalene is one of the greatest saints of the Bible and a legendary example of God’s mercy and grace. Mary was present when Christ rose from the dead, visiting his tomb to anoint his body only to find the stone rolled away and Christ, very much alive, sitting at the place they laid Him. She was the first witness to His resurrection. The moment when she saw the “gardener” near, the tomb, shows us the respect she had for Jesus. In fact she said: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). From today’s Gospel according to St John, we learn the love and respect we ought to show our Lord Jesus, the same love and respect shown by Mary Magdalene and by Christ’s appostles.
Following the Resurrection of Jesus, we are presented with St Peter’s speech to the men and women of Jerusalem. In his speech St Peter’s begins to connect the dots of the salvation line back to David and the Psalms. Here is his speech: “My brothers, one can confidently say to you about the patriarch David that he died and was buried, and his tomb is in our midst to this day. But since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld nor did his flesh see corruption. God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he poured forth the promise of the Holy Spirit that he received from the Father, as you both see and hear.”
When one reads such a speech, one begins to understand better the power of the Holy Spirit, who helped St Peter, once a fisherman, understand the events of the Calvary. A role which is at the very heart of the Church’s mission.
Today’s feast is central and crucial to our Christian faith. It is the celebration of Christ’s victory over death. In order to appreciate Easter Sunday, one must understand the meaning of the following words: suffering and death. First suffering, on Friday we were reminded of Christ’s suffering, as he laid on the cross, crucified, mocked and laughed at by the Sinedrin and the Romans. Suffering which was endured not only by Christ, but also by his Mother, Mary, as she stood beneath the cross, looking and crying at her Son and then all was finished as Christ himself said: “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” With these words Christ died. Then he was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb. Until now one might say: “There’s nothing special here, even the two thieves, who were crucified next to Jesus, they too died on the cross and were then buried” Wait the story isn’t over. What comes next is the celebration of today’s feast: Christ won over evil, he won over death, and stood victorious, resurrected. As St Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians: “If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain”, Christ Resurrection, is the reason why all Christians rejoice, the reason behind our happiness not only today but for the rest of our lives.
In today’s reflection I would like to present a quote from Ven. Fulton Sheen, from his book the Life of Christ, about the “good” thief and the “bad” thief, crucified next to Christ on the Calvary.
“A dying man asked a dying man for eternal life; a man without possessions asked a poor man for a Kingdom; a thief at the door of death asked to die like a thief and steal Paradise. One would have thought a saint would have been the first soul purchased over the counter of Calvary by the red coins of Redemption, but in the Divine plan it was a thief who was the escort of the King of kings into Paradise. If Our Lord had come merely as a teacher, the thief would never have asked for forgiveness. But since the thief’s request touched the reason of His coming to earth, namely, to save souls, the thief heard the immediate answer:
‘I promise thee, this day thou shalt be
With Me in Paradise’
It was the thief’s last prayer, perhaps even his first. He knocked once, sought once, asked once, dared everything, and found everything. When even the disciples were doubting and only one was present at the Cross, the thief owned and acknowledged Him as Saviour.”
“What will you give me if I betray him to you?” In today’s Gospel, Judas asks this question to the high priest, as to how much the Sanhedrin were willing to pay for Christ’s betrayal by one of his apostles. At times we are also tempted to leave the faith, perhaps we no longer see it as attractive, fashionable even. Well for one thing the Catholic faith is not designed to be attractive, one has to accept it as it is. Some follow only with ‘conditions’. Jesus, however, wants complete loyalty with no conditions. Total dedication, not halfhearted commitment. We can’t pick and choose among Jesus’ ideas and follow him selectively. Jesus did not appoint us to be editors who select the portions of Jesus’ teaching which we “think” are irrelevant. Another question which came to my mind when I read today’s Gospel was this: “One of the twelve a traitor?” We often think that Judas must have been different, obviously worse than the other disciples. If that were true, everyone would have suspected him when Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.” They would have thought: “It must be Judas. He’s always been bad. He’s capable of betraying Jesus. I don’t know why Jesus picked him.” Instead, Judas did not stand out as any worse than they were. If he did, they would have immediately suspected him. Each one of us, as well, could become a Judas little by little, first by giving up our principles on smaller matters and then later on more important matters. In the Christian life there always needs to be a healthy tension of straining forward and of watchfulness. The one who is trustworthy in small matters is trustworthy in greater matters.
Born on the 11th of November 1928 in Victoria Gozo. He began his studies at the Seminary in Rabat, Gozo, afterwards he continued his studies at the Gregorian University and at the Lateran University in Rome. After years of study he graduated in Theology and Canon Law. After his ordination, on the 8th pf March 1952, he was appointed Councillor at the Gozitian Curia. Fr Joseph Mercieca started teaching Theology and Canon Law at the Seminary in Gozo. From 1959 to 1969, he was appointed Rector. The year 1969 saw Fr Mercieca as Judge in the Sacra Romana Rota, Consultant for both Congregation of Sacraments and Congregation of the Doctrine or the Faith. Five years later on the 27 of July 1974, Pope Paul the 6th nominated him Auxiliary Bishop for Mons Michael Gonzi. On the 29th of September he was consecrated Titular Bishop of Gemallae in Numidja. The 12th of December 1976 was the day when the Archdiocese of Malta had a new Archbishop: Mons Joseph Mercieca. On the 11th of June 1991 Mons Mercieca was nominated member of the Supreme Tribunal of the Appostolic Signatura. From 1974 till 2006 Mons Joseph Mercieca lead the Church in both difficult and joyous of times. During his time as archbishop, 343 priests were ordained, between secular and religious. On the 26th of January 2007, Mons Mercieca was principal consecrator at the episcopal ordination of Mons Paul Cremona O.P, who succeeded him as Archbishop of Malta. Among the honours received by Mons Mercieca two stand out, that of Member of “Xirka Gieh ir-Repubblika”, and “Gieh Ghawdex”, given to him in 1995 and 2010 respectively. On the 21st of March 2016, surrounded by his family together with Archbishop Scicluna and Archbishop Grech, the beloved Archbishop Emeritus died aged 87.