A gift from heaven – musings on the breaking of the Word
A gift from heaven
When my dear friend Celine Zuzarte passed away on June 19th, 2016 I was heartbroken. On my Facebook message I wrote that day, “Move over angels in heaven, Sheila, (that’s what we called her) now joins you. Treat her well, she loved me on earth.
After the funeral ceremony, her family gave me a bag full of religious items. In it was a Bible which she had purchased on the 24th of July 2002 which was the second year of my priestly ministry in St Michael’s. Mahim. Perhaps unknowingly, the family passed on the most precious possession of Sheila. For me, this gift became a transforming moment in my life for I began to fall in love with the scriptures which prompted me to write this daily blog, pottypadre.com
This Bible has now become my most valued possession. I believe it was Sheila’s gift to me from heaven. So attached have I been to the Word of God that I have willed that when I die, the Bible be placed in my hand over the more traditional choice of a chalice( a symbol of priestly ministry). I would like this curious, non-conformist request to elicit questions, why a Bible over a chalice?
We are nourished by Jesus our Lord and Saviour by His body and blood AND by His word. But I have come to bemoan the fact that Word of God has not been given its fair share of importance in the Eucharistic service. This ‘fair share’ has not been denied by the Catholic Church, for in the mind and the heart of the Church both are given due importance; it has been denied its due importance by the fact that it is not being BROKEN (like the body of Christ is) for our nourishment as it should.
In a recent Facebook post in which I asked people at large to suggest changes in the Church, many zoomed in on the homily. Asif Ali Beg (don’t be fooled by his name) wrote this, “Some sermons…no make that most sermons, I am sure, would make even Jesus wear earplugs”. Some commented on the length while many spoke on the content. No one said DROP THE HOMILY, simply because everyone acknowledges that it is a source of nourishment but what is dished out is often nothing but bland and insipid. Sheryann Fernandes wrote, “It is such a powerful medium, but I rarely remember a sermon that impacted me.”
The laity have a right to well-prepared homilies and while one should not be obsessed with delivery ( not that it does not matter nor that one can’t be trained) what matters is content. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, acknowledging the problem had this to say “How many times do we see some people asleep, chatting or going out to smoke a cigarette during the homily? Whoever gives the homily must recognize that it is not about himself, but that he is ‘giving voice to Jesus’, he is preaching the word of Jesus.” (Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He, who hears you, hears me” – CCC number 87)
The Holy Father reiterated that the homily is not a lecture, a lesson, a catechesis or just small talk; it is the minister continuing a dialogue the Lord has already established with his people so that his word may become part of their lives.
But all of this does not exonerate the role of the laity. There are some lay people who astound me with their knowledge of scripture which also leaves the majority of the Catholic Church thumbing their Bibles, often looking for a New Testament text in the Old Testament.
The most well delivered scripturally based homily (remember the homily is not story time) can still fall flat if the faithful in the pews do not do their part, too. Catholics need to read and study the Bible more regularly so they can better understand the scriptures.
We make our children learn the multiplication by heart, what’s wrong with them or us learning a few verses by heart? How can we be nourished if the text book of nourishment is an alien book lying on the shelf?
When Sheila left me her Bible she reached out from heaven, touching my soul and motivating me to study my scriptures. Recently I bound this Bible for the second time; yeh, Bible makers know it won’t be thumbed so the binding is usually terrible. The Bible has been my travel companion; it’s my go to ‘agony aunt’, my source of healing and the strength to go through yet another challenging day.
Fr. Warner D'Souza is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Bombay. He has served in the parishes of St Michael's (Mahim), St Paul's (Dadar East), Our Lady of Mount Carmel, (Bandra), a ten year stint as priest-in-charge at St Jude Church (Malad East) and at present is the Parish Priest at St Stephen's Church (Cumballa Hill). He is also the Director of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum and is the co-ordinator of the Committee for the Promotion and Preservation of the Artistic and Historic Patrimony of the Church.