This is the text of the homily Father Brendan M. Gatt, a former Lasallian student, gave during the February 12th Mass at ISYL.
Growing up as a student of De La Salle College in Malta, I still remember hearing so many times the phrase: “Let us remember that we are in the Holy Presence of God.” To which all of us would reply, “Let us adore him.” And so many times, as children and young men, we didn’t really appreciate what the Brothers or the teachers meant when they said it. I guess we supposed it was this funny way which the De La Salle people had of saying “good morning,” or perhaps “shut up: teacher is in class!” But the magnitude of the awareness that we ARE in the holy presence of God should never cease to amaze us. Whatever we do in life, we are in His presence, an amazing, loving presence. There is no place where He is not!
Over the centuries, many people have misinterpreted God’s constant presence as something to be feared. And perhaps even as a Church we have some blame in this, because the easy way to control people’s behaviour was to threaten them that “God is watching you.” Like that story of the children lining up to take apples and cookies during lunch at school. Next to the apples the nun had written: “Take only one; God is watching.” So next to the cookies, one of the students wrote: “Take as many as you like: God is watching the apples.” If my awareness of God’s presence is one of fear, then I will resent it. I will feel myself constantly judged and examined. And I will not love the God who does that to me. I will fear Him; perhaps, I may even respect and obey Him (out of fear). Or I will try to get away with doing bad things in the hope He won’t notice. But I will not love him. What a sad situation! What a wasted opportunity. But the reality is that God is not merely a harsh judge or a strict teacher: He is a Father who is so crazy in love about us that he would send his own beloved Son to suffer and save us.
The disciples of Emmaus teach us this lesson. They teach us that where there is a real awareness of the presence of God, HOPE and JOY go with it. Even without knowing it, when they were in the presence of Jesus, their hearts were burning within them: St. Luke tells us “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” And all of a sudden they forgot the sadness that came from seeing him hanging on a cross and dying; they forgot the disappointment when they thought that all their plans and all Jesus’ work was for nothing. They forgot the fear that was afflicting them because – as his disciples – they were also marked men. The presence of Jesus in their hearts, the awareness of his Risen Presence accompanying them gave them courage and strength. The same distance that had taken them an entire day to walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus now took them only a short time. They ran to Jerusalem, to share their joyful story with the others, with the Church. More than any Red Bull, the presence of Christ gave them wings! Like the words of Psalm 126: Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
Let me therefore draw a few conclusions: You did not come here weeping (although all of us are aware of the difficulties facing us as a Church, and perhaps as a Lasallian family as well, and sometimes we can lose heart) but you came sowing: you came here offering your hard work to help strengthen and increase the Lasallian spirituality. You will go back, rejoicing because you know that the same Jesus who promised to be with his Church till the end of time is with you. You will go back filled with hope (but not just a vague optimism, or merely a positive feeling). Real Christian Hope means trusting that wherever the future takes us, and whatever it throws at us, we need not fear, because our Loving God is already there.
Two keywords: Church and Joy. Church because as Lasallians, without the Church we are nothing: the Church is our family. We come from her, we work in her, we work for her. Like the disciples of Emmaus we get the Scriptures and the Eucharist from the Church. They returned to Jerusalem to share their joy with the Church. They did not go alone from then onwards. It’s true, sometimes people in the Church can hurt us. But if Jesus didn’t give up on her, who am I to do so?
And Joy: without Joy we could have the best news in the world, but no one would believe us. As I heard from an American preacher once, “If you have Jesus in your heart, please inform your face!”
Joy comes from the faith and hope that despite the storms, God is greater. Like sailors in a storm, we can fix our eyes on the Star, the sign of our faith.
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
As long as our eyes are fixed on Jesus, then we will not go wrong. I also propose Our Lady to guide you: Pope Benedict had called her the Star of Hope, because she is the one who is closest to Jesus and therefore can guide us to him even in the darkness. I also propose St. John Baptist de La Salle: may he keep inspiring you and all the Lasallian family with the desire to share the love of God which we have experienced, and give us joy in doing so.