2017-04-30 Third Sunday of Easter – Luke 24:13-35

Homily podcast.

Rare is the obituary that can match that of Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart (1880-1963) who died as the most decorated soldier in the British Army. He was born to a Belgian father and Irish mother, though reputed to be an illegitimate son of Leopold II, King of the Belgians. His mother died when he was six, and his English stepmother sent him to the Birmingham Oratory School in England, founded by Cardinal Newman. He entered the University of Oxford, but dropped out to join the British Army and fight in the Second Boer War. He married Countess Friederike Maria Karoline Henriette Rosa Sabina Franziska Fugger von Babenhausen, the eldest daughter of an Austrian prince. Soon he went to British Somaliland with the Camel Corps to fight Mohammed bin Abdullah, the “Mad Mullah.” There he lost an eye and part of his ear.

Carton de Wiart returned to fight in the First World War in France, was wounded seven times, shot through the skull and ankle, hip and leg, and lost his left hand. After the war he resided on the estate of his Polish aide de camp, Prince Karol Radziwill, in a wetland larger than the Republic of Ireland, until the Nazis invaded. Dispatched to Serbia, his aircraft crashed in the sea off the coast of Italian-controlled Libya, and he began three years as a prisoner of war in Italy. Upon his release, Churchill sent him to China; en route he attended the 1943 Cairo Conference with Churchill, Roosevelt, and Chiang Kai-shek.

A fervent anti-Communist, Sir Adrian later criticized Mao Zedong to his face. He retired in 1947 to County Cork in Ireland, laurelled as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Companion of the Order of the Bath, Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, and recipient of the Croix de Guerre of France and Belgium, but first of all, of the Victoria Cross, and above even that, he was renowned as a vigorous Catholic.

Wandering down a country lane one day, lame and partially blind, he asked a very young colleen where it led. Un-phased by his scars, she gently said, “Oh sir, this road will take you wherever you wish to go.” This is not without application to these Easter days, for the two grieving men on the Emmaus road were wounded by disappointment in Jesus whom they expected to be their Messianic hero. It was when he took them to a wayside inn that they recognized him. He told them that their road was not only the way to Emmaus, but “wherever they wished to go.”

The road depends on whether one follows Christ, or one’s confused ego. At the Last Supper when Saint Thomas asked the Risen Lord where he was going, the answer was: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

2017-04-23 Second Sunday of Easter – John 20:19 – 31

Homily podcast.

In these fifty days of Easter, there are natural echoes of rebirth: the skyscrapers rising daily within our parish bounds, and the change of weather. But were this neighborhood decaying as it used to be, and were we south of the Equator moving into Autumn and then Winter, the joy of Easter would still be vivid, and perhaps more so, for Christ’s triumph over death contradicted the melancholy of the culture in those days.

Each year, the suffering of Christians in many parts of the world bears witness to the power of the Holy Spirit. While the genocide of Christians has discomfited much of our media, who would rather reduce Easter to a quaint Rite of Spring with no emblems more serious than bunnies and funny hats, in his Easter message our President cited the Christians martyred on Palm Sunday in Egypt. Those faithful died while chanting the Palm Sunday Hosannas when they left this world for the Heavenly City.

In the church just outside Cairo and in the cathedral, are icons of Saint George who is the patron of Christians in the Middle East. His feast on the Latin calendar is transferred this year from today to Monday, in deference to the Easter celebrations. The images of Saint George slaying the dragon perdure, and I am doubly blessed to have him as my patron, while being pastor of this parish under the patronage of Saint Michael, who also wore armour in the great spiritual combat.

Recently a lady told me that her Jewish husband has always venerated Catholic priests, and for a solid reason. He was a boy in Germany during the Second World War, orphaned in the Holocaust, when a priest smuggled him through dangerous territory to the border with neutral Switzerland. As the priest entrusted the boy to the border guards, and waved goodbye, he was shot from behind by two Nazi soldiers. Such has been the office of priests since the Risen Lord instructed the apostles in the forty days after he rose from the dead.

Like Joshua leading the Jews across the Jordan into the Promised Land, priests are ordained to shepherd their flocks daily toward the border of time and eternity. Then their task is done. For this reason, a bishop does not carry his pastoral staff, the crozier, at funerals, for he no longer has charge over the souls of the departed.

Christ the High Priest meets the soul, not waving farewell but opening his arms as on the Cross, the Good Shepherd whose judgment separates the sheep from the goats, while willing that none be lost and all be saved. In the words of the eighteenth-century Welsh hymn:

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Bear me through the swelling current,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.