“Not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes from faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection” (Phil 3: 9-10). This is what Paul says about himself. He accepts the loss of all things and considers the vanity of the world as so much rubbish that he may gain Christ and be found in him. But he admits: “I have no righteousness of my own based on the law.” His righteousness is a gift that he has received through God and from God, and the source of this righteousness is not the law, not the observance of human legislation, precepts and observances, but faith in Christ.
Today’s Gospel sheds light about this relationship of faith with the Lord. It is not only the acceptance of the content of the Creed that we will all sing together after this homily, but it is actually also accepting the Word of God in our hearts and in our lives. This is the relationship of faith: it is a trusting filial relationship to a God who is love and who comes to meet us in the embrace of mercy.
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” These are the only words that the woman caught in adultery said: “No one, Lord”. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (Jn 8: 10-11). That invitation, by the command “Go” is a new beginning in the life of this woman. She was facing death, as so many unfortunate women under Daesh keep doing even as we speak. She was facing the death penalty because of her sin, and if we ever thought that this was a thing of two thousand years ago, then we have to stop and think that these things still happen as we speak, in the Middle East, in the Orient. This great tragedy of a law that has no freedom to give, but only death to deliver. Jesus gives his life in order to take that mortal sting from the law and even from religion. By his attitude Jesus shows religion is about life, it is not about killing people, it is not about death. This is something that we have to reflect upon, even whilst looking at our past, at our history. Has tuitio fidei (defending the faith) also brought death with it?
Though it is such a wonderful moment for you as you gather here towards the end of this session in Malta, where you discussed with His Eminent Highness the Prince and Grandmaster what the Order is doing to live to its true vocation of the obsequium pauperum (veneration of the poor), try to understand where real poverty lies today: in refugees, in migrants, in hospitals around the world where the presence of the Maltese Cross is a sign of hope and true charity.
Today’s second reading from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians, makes you realise that tuitio fidei:the defence of the faith which is also the essence of the veneration, the obsequium pauperum, the veneration of the poor. If you had to change the substantive and talk about tuitio pauperum, we will also get the obsequium fidei. You really live through your faith if you give your life to defend the poor. This is where the prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading (Is 43: 16-21) comes to life. “I am doing something new”, and the Lord keeps doing something new through us, through you, members of the Sovereign Order.
May we pray today that the spirit of the Collect, with which we started this Sunday’s solemn Eucharist, fill our hearts, not only through Holy Week and Easter, but every day of our lives. We prayed with the Church: “by your help we beseech you, Lord Our God, may we walk eagerly in that same charity with which out of love for the world, Your Son handed himself over to death”. That is the measure of our obsequium pauperum, which is the essence of our tuitio fidei, to walk eagerly in the same charity which Christ had towards each and every one of us. The charity of Jesus led him to the cross, and from there to the glory of the resurrection. If there is any glory in the history of the Order and in its future it has to be this: to walk eagerly in the same charity with which the Lord Jesus Christ handed himself over to death to save each and every one of us.
As St Augustine said: at one point in today’s Gospel, there are only two people. He says it in Latin: relicti sunt duo, miseria et misericordia; only two were left: the wretched woman and mercy incarnate. We are part of that miseria, we are all miseri, in the sense that we are all indebted before God. We all need his misericordia but we stand in front of Jesus relicti sunt duo, miseria et misericordia. Let us fill our hearts with that misericordia, with that charity which Jesus shows to us every time we feel that we are not worthy to stand before him, because we have condemned and society has condemned us to die. Let us kneel before him and hear him say: “Go, live, there is a new beginning in your life.” Amen.
✠ Charles J. Scicluna