Easter Vigil's homily

Do you like surprises? Be careful. There are at least three types of surprises. 

There are “bad surprises”
  • you were sure you were getting that job you applied for... it did not happen;
  • you went to the doctor and unexpectedly he / she gave you bad news;
  • you did not pass the exam as well as you thought you would

There are “good surprises” too
  • you thought you had failed the exam but in fact you passed;
  • you found money you forgot you had hidden somewhere;
  • you got a gift unexpectedly, nothing big but so meaningful...!

There are also some surprises that are just overwhelming:
  • I still remember the day I got a call from Pretoria (I was living in Rome at that time) when I was told Pope Benedict had appointed me bishop of Ingwavuma. It just did not make any sense. I lost two kg in one week!
  • Today is exactly this type of surprise! The Resurrection is just overwhelming and it is not just one surprise... it is full of surprises. 

Think about it.

First surprise. The Gospel says: “After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre.” Do you remember them? Do you remember Mary of Magdala and the other Mary? They are two key people. They are the ones we read about on Sunday that saw where the body had been placed. None of the apostles could tell the place. They were not there. 

These two women go the sepulchre. The Gospel does not tell us why. The Gospel of Mark says they went to finish the anointing because they could not do it before the beginning of the Sabbath. They do not have a clue of what is awaiting them.

There is no dead body. He is no longer there. He is risen! Death has been destroyed. Death had no power over him. 

Second surprise. Jesus had chosen 12 apostles but who are the new apostles of His resurrection: two women. No men. They are first sent by the angel and later by Jesus himself. Same words. Go and tell them... If I am not wrong women could not be credible witnesses in court at that time and Jesus chooses them to be His witnesses. I wonder if we understand how powerful this is.

Third surprise. The words of the Angel and the ones of Jesus are very similar. I would just like to help you see one difference which is very deep. The angel tells the women: “go and tell his disciples...”. Jesus instead says: “go and tell my brothers”. Jesus the Lord, calls the apostles “brothers”. He calls brothers all those who abandon him at the moment of suffering. Very similar to the Gospel of John where the first word of the Risen Christ is: Peace! 

Fourth surprise. Therefore there is no reason for fear. Both the Angel and the Risen Lord start by saying: “do not be afraid”. There is no reason to be afraid and particularly to be afraid of God. 

It is just overwhelming. This is not just one thing... these are life changing moments. It is an earthquake as the Gospel says and I (this is me) picture the Angel sitting on the rock laughing out loud. 

* * * * *

Believing in the resurrection is about what starts today and continues for eternity.

Easter is God coming to remove the stone that is blocking us from receiving the good news of life and life to the full that Jesus brought us.

Life where death has no longer power over us. True, we think of our final death which is the final barrier to eternal life but think also of all the other deaths you might be experiencing in your life... feeling hopeless... feeling we are not good enough... believing as I said yesterday that: such is life... Death has been destroyed, the stone is removed. Think of that "death" that people carry in their lives and they want to throw to you: lies, anger, violence, power, jealousy... The angel is laughing at those who choose to live by those standards.

Life where men and women share the same dignity. We justify on faith, culture and personal ideas all sorts of things to make sure it does not happen. From creation though we read that God created male and female in his own image. A stone had fallen on our eyes and hearts to separate them, to make us believe it is not so. Jesus makes them apostles, the stone is removed. Don't we call them "apostles of the apostles"?

Life where we are filled of God's mercy. You can no longer put any limits to God's mercy. Let me repeat it: Please, I beg you, do not put limits and do not allow anyone to put limits to God's mercy. 

Peter was very much aware he could deny the Lord and indeed happened. Not just once... but three times. Still, Jesus told him he had prayed for him so that when he recovered he could confirm his brothers. 

We are all aware of our sins. We are sinners. We constantly acknowledge that at every Mass and – as Pope Francis says – God never gets tired of forgiving us. Whoever tells you it is not so, is only trying to keep the stone blocking the resurrection.


* * * * *
The question is... now what?

I don't need to tell you. You have heard it. You can tell me. What are you supposed to do? What am I supposed to do?  “They must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.”

Cannot say if Jesus was asking the apostles to physically travel back to Galilee but certainly he is not asking us to buy a ticket and go to the Holy Land. As we would hear Peter tomorrow in the first reading from the book of the Acts of the Apostoles... ‘You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea; about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism.' 

Everything started in Galilee. It is there that they became disciples. With the joy of the resurrection we are called to become disciples going back to His words and actions aware that it is the only way that gives us life and life to the full.



Click below for photos taken on
Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil

2017SZ_Triduum

At 9.00 pm on Saturday evening we gathered outside the Cathedral to start our Easter Vigil with the blessing of the fire. The weather was perfect... it was not drizzling and there was no wind. It was difficult to know how many people were present. Only going into the Cathedral we saw it was full. 

The celebration lasted until nearly 3 am as: 
  • after each one of the readers there was a short comment by one of the lay ministers;
  • nearly thirty young people celebrated the sacraments of Christian initiation: baptism, first communion and confirmation;
  • each one of them read their personal commitment to serve in the community. Some as members of the choirs, others as ushers or members of St Vincent de Paul and so on;
  • the altar of the Cathedral had been redone last year and it had been decided to consecrate it during the Easter Vigil;
  • the lay ministers of the Cathedral and outstations were commissioned.

As every year, the choir made sure it would be a prayerful and joyful night. I was awake after a couple of hours for the morning Masses in English and Siswati. Both had also the celebration of baptisms: 19 babies during the first Mass and 10 children during the second one.

Before the final blessing I thanked everyone who worked so hard to prepare each celebration. Some are "seen" by all like the members of the choir, the readers, the lay ministers... but others always work behind the scene in the sacristy, cleaning and preparing the church for each celebration... 

The Holy Week is always the fruit of the commitment of many and, as Fr Mswane underlined, particularly all those who attended the celebration as their presence strengthen our being one family in the Risen Lord.

Photos taken on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil
(click on the photo below)

2017SZ_Triduum

In 2010 I went to the Holy Land with other bishops. We stayed in Galilee where Jesus lived and preached.

The last night, just before leaving the place to go to the airport and fly back, a man approached me to talk. He was living at the place. He said: "You know bishop I am blessed being here. We do not get a salary. We are here to welcome people like you who come to the Holy. Land. My wife is here too. You probably met her. She is not well. She has cancer. She's had many surgeries and she is suffering a lot. I am grateful to God for having her still with me and for being able to spend this time together here."

He then put a hand in his pocket and showed me a small cross. He said: "this cross was made out of a tree that is here outside. It is an old tree. It is believed to be 2000 years' old. If so, it was here when Jesus preached... Whenever I am struggling, I just put my hand in my pocket and grab the cross to be reminded of His love for us."

To my surprise, he then gave me the cross saying: "Take it and whenever you feel you are struggling in your service as a bishop, put your hand in your pocket and remember Jesus".

Carrying a cross in our pockets can be a beautiful prayer. There are times when we pray with words and times when it is just the silence of our hearts. Like John Vianney who used to say about his prayer in from of the Blessed Sacrament: "I just look at Him and He looks at me." 

We do it today in front of the cross and Jesus crucified. There will probably be no words as we witness such a suffering and death.

I like the silent prayer of carrying a cross in the pocket because it reminds me of the words we heard on Ash Wednesday: "when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them; I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you." (Mt 6:6)

I prefer the cross on the pocket to the one we carry from our necks. Some carry crosses in silver or gold. I see on TV people with big crosses on their chests. I wonder if out of faith or fashion. I fear that makes us forget the crucifixion was the most cruel and disgusting degradation of a human being. It was the most painful and because no organs were affected it could take days until the person would die.

To my friend in the Holy Land, the cross was strength in his struggles. To others might be a very much necessary reminder of Jesus' merciful love. 

Early last year, a book of interviews with Pope Francis was published. Its name was: "the name of God is mercy". Lovely title. The name of God is mercy...

We need to remember it by heart because even though we read about God's mercy, even though we preach about mercy, we still struggle to welcome God's mercy in our lives. Even though we had a jubilee of mercy, we still believe and preach that in one way or another God punishes us for our sins. 

No matter how many Holy Thursdays and how many times at Mass we hear Jesus say: "this is my body given up for you... this is my blood poured out for you..." and no matter how many Good Fridays we remember his passion and death on the cross, we still believe that somehow, somewhere, God punishes us for our sins.

It seems to be in our blood. 

It seems we have decided how God should be and behave. It is not what Jesus revealed to us but what we have decided to believe. We are stubborn. We do not want to welcome the good news of God's merciful love.

We might feel we do not deserve it. Of course, we don't. It is a gracious gift from God. We grow up trying to make sure we deserve what we are given. Mercy, is totally gracious. 

Sometimes, instead, we play it clever. We proclaim God's mercy but we put limits to it thinking: "God is merciful but not always, not all the time. He cannot always forgive". We need to make sure God does not go too far!

God wants to fill our lives with his merciful love but we seem not to want that. Maybe because we are afraid. We are aware that doing so might challenge us to do the same. In fact Jesus said: "Be merciful like the Father". We might not believe in being merciful with others.

The problem is that when we do not choose mercy, we choose violence.

Then, His death on the cross is powerless in our lives.

The choice is ours. We all know the painting of Jesus knocking at a door which can only be opened from inside. 

In his letter to the Romans Paul wonders: "Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?" Probably yes... our own choice not to open the door to it.

Click below for photos of the Triduum

2017SZ_Triduum
SaveSaveSaveSave

(Kind of a longer homily today. This, in fact, is the second half!
Photos at the end of the text)

The cross and crucified bring another dimension of mercy: the one who preached and gave mercy experienced the hardness of heart and rejection of many: religious and political authorities and people in general. He was then crucified. That was the worse possible punishment that could be given.

Many years' ago there was a film called “Mission”. At the very end a certain Monseigneur (I think) tells a Cardinal: “Your Excellency, this is how life is”. The Cardinal replies: “No. This is how we have made it”. True. This is how we have made it.

The cross and the crucified bring to our eyes the faces of all the innocent that are suffering because of the hardness of our hearts, because of us being so stubborn... We have chosen violence as the only way to solve our differences. We have come to believe that only violence can bring peace in our lives and relationships.

The cross and the crucified continues to reveal how violent we are and how much suffering we inflict on others...
  • for those who follow news, we have vivid images from Syria and children dying because of chemical weapons. We will never ever know who was responsible. No one takes responsibility. No one would dare do so. Innocent victims of lords of wars;
  • not sure you have followed the news of the hunger affecting the northern part of our continent. Part of it is the fruit of climate change but probably most of it is – once again – the result of these lords of wars feeding with weapons a conflict among just a few and inflicting suffering on many;
  • truth, in any case, is the first victim of any war, of every violence... One can easily hear Pilate wondering again: “Truth? What is that?”
  • but even in our own small world we look for lawyers who would protect us from taking any responsibility for our actions or we find different words to justify our actions... but we are never responsible

Think of:
  • the reality of child abuse in a so called Christian country - innocent victims of our personal and social violence;
  • our daily news about gender based violence... the violence of the powerful over the powerless and this in our own families and communities;
  • the reality of poverty. If anything is clear in the Bible is that God protects the “orphan, the widow and the foreigner”. They are innocent victims of our personal, political, financial choices that seem to leave them behind; 
  • the reality of fear in our families, communities, country and world. We are afraid to talk, afraid of the violent consequences and then we finish confusing “peace” with a “cold war”;
  • the violence of words in our relationships, in our families (between husband and wife, between parents and children) in schools, in social media... Social media has become a space in which people get hurt by the power of a word or an image. It has become a space in which we show our personal violence because we are unable to listen to each other and respect the different views. Many then become innocent victims;
  • our believe that Christian pastors have the right to enrich themselves in the name of the Gospel. Does it has anything to do with that Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, went into Jerusalem on a donkey, wash the feet of the apostles, died on a cross and who clearly declared we cannot serve both God and money? This too is violence against the innocent...

The cross and the crucified reveal to us our choices protecting the powerful and sacrificing the powerless and the innocent like it was done with Jesus for our own selfish interests.

The cross and the crucified revealed to us our choices of silencing and doing away with the one who does not think like us as it was done with Jesus. 

The cross and the crucified revealed to us how limited we are, when we choose violence – any form of violence – thinking it will solve a problem. It never does. Violence – at familiar – community – political level just brings more violence. Jesus, in fact, put an end to the cycle of violence. We don't do that and therefore we keep on producing new victims. 

We love to believe that Jesus' death on the cross is a personal matter between "him and me". It is much more than that. It has a social dimension that challenges us not only to stop our own violence – in thoughts, words and actions – but also to put an end to the cycle of violence by giving up our lives as He did. 

Even today he could repeat what he said to the apostles at the last supper: “I have given you an example for you to follow”

Only that would bring a more human world and good news to the poor.

* * * * *

Click below for photos of the Triduum
(From Flickr)

2017SZ_Triduum


Today's homily at the Chrism Mass

Every year we celebrate the Chrism Mass with the blessing of the oils and the renewal of the promises priests made at our ordination.

This is one of the few cases in which we never change the readings. No matter the year, we always read the same ones.

The Gospel is taken from Luke 4. Having been tempted by Satan in the desert, Jesus goes back to Nazareth where he was brought up. He goes into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He read the words we heard in the first reading.

As he finished reading and everyone waits for him to comment on the text, he says one of the shortest homilies ever (well... not true. It was longer than what we heard today): “this text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.”

* * *
The passage is given to us, deacons – priests – bishops, as we are called to renew our promises.

We have been called to “identify” ourselves with Jesus. The Church talks about the priests as “other Jesus” in the midst of the communities.

True that we are not the only ones! The Gospel of Matthew presents other “faces” of Jesus to be aware of... “I was hungry, thirsty, sick, stranger, in prison...” (Whenever you hear us insisting we are Jesus among you, please do remind us of the other presences of Jesus among us so that we do not think it is exclusive to us!)

This makes me think that while the Gospel of Matthew presents that face of Jesus calling us to be “merciful”, today's passage from Luke calls the priests to identify with that Jesus anointed to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

The question then is “how did he fulfill the mission he was sent to”?

1. Naturally the first thing that comes to our mind is “by preaching”. One can never underestimate the power of His Word. We listen to it every day or at least every Sunday. We remember it. We reflect on it.

How could one forget parables like the ones of the Good Samaritan, the merciful father...

We, priests, then need to make sure we have words that are powerful, that can strengthen the faith, hope and love of the people and communities entrusted to us.

We might forget this... and we might sometimes not take good care of the words we use when addressing other people or sometimes not prepare well our homilies...

Last November I was presiding a Mass in Mamelodi (Pretoria) and I made a comment about those cases in which we, priests and bishops, do not prepare properly. Someone came after Mass and said... “Thank you bishop for saying that. It is true”. People might not tell us. They might not feel free to tell us. Maybe we do not create those spaces for them to be free with us. Then, they go somewhere else looking for the food they need.

Maybe we ourselves underestimate the power of a word. We know how much a word can hurt, we might forget how much it can heal, encourage, give light...


2. There is a second way in which Jesus did it: his actions. Healing, touching, eating with sinners... I believe we need to reflect more on them. 
  • Some of his actions had no words. Like on Palm Sunday when he went into Jerusalem on a donkey. No words were spoken. The message was clear.
  • I wonder how many times he just sat down among sinners, among people with a bad name, rejected by the society of the time... I always think of the day the apostles saw Jesus calling Levi to follow him. I wonder what face they put? "Why on earth would Jesus call someone like Levi? We might not be perfect but ... Levi!" Or the time he publicly chose to go and eat at Zaccheus place... “He has gone to stay at a sinner's house” some said.
  • Think of the moment he touched the sick... particularly the lepers... or the moment when he touched the bier where the only son of a widow was lying dead..
  • I wonder how common was to have women among his disciples.
  • Think of the times we find Jesus praying. One day it would make the apostles ask him to teach them to pray.
I wonder if our actions have the same power. I wonder if they proclaim a message: good news to the poor! I wonder if they challenge anyone. An old story talks of a bishop who once said: “wherever Jesus went there was a revolution; wherever l go people serve tea!”

If our actions, if our lifestyle does not proclaim good news to the poor or challenge anyone, something must be wrong because we do not live in a Christian society. Enough to think of the daily news of abuse of children, gender violence, corruption, greed, power fighting, women being seen as second class people, human trafficking... We might have many churches (more and more are being built), many pastors (more and more come to us to preach for a few days), many people praying and praising the Lord, many carrying bibles but it does not seem to be transforming people's lives and making our society more human... more “good news to the poor”.

Our attitude towards money, power, gender... should make people wonder... why does this priest do that? If not, we need to understand why, we need to ask ourselves why not...

3. The fact is that Jesus did not just “preach” good news or “did” good things. He was indeed the good news he was preaching. There was no division between what he preached, what he thought and what he did. That is probably why he could say: this word is being fulfilled today even as you listen.

What we are celebrating these days is that HE was the Word he proclaimed (and probably that is why the only way to stop him was getting rid of him).

We need to always remember what we were told at our ordination: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” It does not happen overnight and it is a call to constant conversion in our lives because unless we walk towards it, our message – our lives – will not be meaningful.

Last year at a “Justice and Peace” workshop with priests I shared with them that we should never understand Justice and Peace as something we tell others they should be doing. In other words,
  • We cannot expect from anyone: transparency, accountability, respect for the dignity of women, justice, refraining from any type of abuse... unless we lead ourselves by example, unless that is what we do in our daily lives;
  • We cannot expect others to be able to dialogue and listen to each other unless we ourselves take the initiative and create those spaces for dialogue and listening to each other in our parishes.
  • We cannot expect to do away with the fear that seems to mark our lives in our families, communities, country and world, unless we create spaces of freedom to talk in our own parishes...
  • We cannot expect rite relations among people unless the way relate to each other (bishops and priests, priests with other priests, bishops and priests with our lay people) make everyone understand we are led by the Gospel and not by any culture, social media or personal ideas. It should remind people of Jesus saying: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you.” (Mt 20: 25 – 26). We need to always remember that “it shall not be so among you”.

I always fear that the expressions... I have been sent "to bring”, "to proclaim”... could make us forget that first of all, we have been called and sent “to be good news", to be spaces of freedom where people can talk without fear, to be light and hope to those who walk in darkness...

As we renew today our promises, maybe we continue to deepen in the call we have received. 

May we thank the Lord for the gift of priesthood and for the gift of the priests serving our diocese. 

As Paul says: “I am quite confident tha the One who began a good work in you will go on completing it until the Day of Jesus Christ comes” (Phil 1:6)

* * * * *



(High Resolution photo below - 5 Mb)



It all started one week before Palm Sunday. Got a message on WhatsApp saying: "Donkey is on its way. Arriving Saturday for practice for Palm Sunday service". Someone said: "Bishop, today is April 1 and this is probably a joke"

I joked saying I do not have a "riding license". Just that the messages continued: "the donkey will be led by its owner". Fr Tim SDB would ride the donkey before the 09.00 Mass in English and I would do it for the 10.30 Mass in SiSwati. "Both of you should be available for practice on Saturday at 3 pm. Is it possible to house the donkey at your grass space..." No joke anymore. It was true! 


Saturday morning the donkey arrived at the bishop's house and in the afternoon we all gathered for the first practice. Quite a challenge! We risked losing Fr Tim through the gates and into town on the donkey. The experience made us close the gate before I would go myself for a short ride.

Sunday morning, someone used to the donkey joined us for the processions and led the donkey before each one of the Masses. It was very smooth and helped us imagine the joy with which Jesus was welcomed in Jerusalem by many. 


But also a reminder of the words of the prophet:
Say to the daughter of Zion:
Look, your king comes to you;
he is humble, he rides on a donkey
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.
I believe it was my very first time to do it and I am deeply grateful to all those who, in one way or another, made it possible.

Click below to see more photos (from Flickr)

2017SZ_PalmSunday




The project started a year ago. Arriving in the diocese of Manzini I realized that our "prayer book" was in Zulu and not in SiSwati. Last year, reflecting on my 30th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, I thought of doing something for the diocese. It would be "my way" of celebrating this anniversary. 
Pope Francis' words in 2015 addressing a conference marking the 50th anniversary of Vatican II’s decree on the ministry and life of priests and on priestly training, expressed why I chose to do it in this way:
we are not priests for ourselves, and our own sanctification is closely linked to that of our people, our anointment with theirs. You have been anointed for your people. Knowing and remembering that we are ordained for the people, the holy people of God, helps priests not to think of themselves, to be authoritative, not authoritarian; firm but not hard; joyful but not superficial: in short, pastors, not functionaries.

The booklet is now ready and it is being sold very quickly. Announcing it at the Cathedral at the end of the Palm Sunday Mass I explained it is the fruit of the work of many people: priests and laity. Some known, some unknown to many. It involved: choosing the prayers, translations, corrections, design, type of paper and binding, printing company... Each one offered his or her expertise and lots of time and work.

Their names are nowhere to be seen in the booklet. A big thank you to each one of them for this generous service to our diocese!
Two statements were released in the past week regarding South Africa. One from the South African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) and one from South African Council of Churches. 

For technical problems I was not able to update the blog in the last few days... Still, I thought it was good to share both of them. 


SaveSave