Text of homily preached by His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith
at the Concelebrated Eucharistic Service held on 4th December 2014 at the BMICH in Colombo
to mark the 10th year tsunami remembrance event hosted by Caritas Sri Lanka SEDEC.
When the Tsunami tragedy struck the island of Sumatra on 26th December 2004, I was manning the Apostolic Nunciature in Jakarta and the first news I received was from home here that a series of massive waves has hit the coastal areas of Sri Lanka and that my little hometown had been badly affected. Hardly did I realize that right there in the back yard of Indonesia nearly two hundred and fifty thousand people had perished in an experience of Armageddon. We in the Island of Java did not experience the shocks. It was when I visited the town of Banda Aceh just two days later with a dear friend, His Eminence Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, that I saw the apocalyptic scenes of death and terror which had hit that area. A whole town of about half a million people had vanished from the surface of the earth. Even during our brief stay we could experience the aftershocks, which continued to terrify the survivors. Their faces were an image of terrible agony. It was at that moment that the entire world became one people irrespective of national borders, languages, races, religion, color and culture, in order to show their closeness to the hundreds of thousands of people who had suffered so much and whose tears and cries pierced the hardened hearts of humanity. This was truly overwhelming and practically miraculous. It was spirituality at its best, whatever the faiths people believed in.
And I do remember with particular gratitude the way aid streamed into Indonesia through the Caritas family for one. Indeed there was no Caritas then in Indonesia after a court ruling a financial collapse which had destroyed that mechanism earlier. The Nunciature became the Caritas centre and having had to guide it at the initial stages, I experienced the love and generosity with which all the Caritas members helped the people in Indonesia and indeed everywhere, to rise up from the ashes of destruction they had faced. The Caritas spirit of complete dedication to helping those affected, to wipe away their tears and to help them to rise again reminded me of the word of Pope Benedict XVI in his first Encyclical Letter “Deus Caritas Est.” which said that while the Churches” charitable organizations like Caritas ought to do everything in their power to provide the resources and above all the personal needed for works of charity they must always remember that they are dealing with human beings and human beings need something more than just technical support and care. They need humanity. They need to experience the ennobling love of God in everything that is undertaken on their behalf (Conf. No. 31a). In other words, just altruism would not be sufficient. It had to be motivated by love, love of the Lord and love of all those whom we meet. Stated Pope Benedict: “ They must not be inspired by ideologies aimed at improving the world but should rather be guided by the faith which works through love (cf. Gal. 5:6). Consequently, more than anything, they must be persons moved by Christ’s love, persons whose hearts Christ has conquered with His love, awakening within them a love of neighbour” (ibid.33). The Caritas family showed what that challenge really meant for them.
For, we know that this love of God which overwhelms us has to be complemented with a love of our neighbor or rather has to make us reach out to all the others. In this sense only a person in love with humanity can truly love God. Hence, it is a two way system. We cannot love God unless we love our neighbour unless we love God profoundly and discover how much we ought to love our neighbour, how extensive it should be. True charity is thus profoundly divine and profoundly human. One is not against the other or without the other.
Pope Francis stated so in Evangelii Gaudium: “When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God” (EG 272). The Pope calls this being open to others as that f being missionaries. He states: “only the person who feels happiness in seeking the good of the others, in deserving their happiness, can be a missionary” (ibid). In fact for the Pope a life that flees, hides, refuses to share, stops giving and locks itself up in its own comforts is in a state of “slow suicide” (ibid). For the Pope, “we have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing” (ibid 273). The Pope continues: “Every person is worthy of our giving, not for the physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation…. every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness and He himself is present in their lives…. consequently if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life” (EG 274).
This is profound humanism indeed, and profound humanism leads us to experience the depth of God Himself: “ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est”. And I know that it is this spirit that animates your dedication to serve the poor. Beloved friends of the Caritas family, the problems of selfishness and the rising spirit of individualism in our societies are truly a challenge to us Christians -disciples of the Lord who stretched out His arms to love us on the cross and gave Himself totally for us. And it is on that very cross, at the height of His self –giving, that the new existence of humanity became a reality – existence of freedom and dignity was achieved. And to become missionaries of love, expressions of God’s tenderness, as Pope Francis prefers to describe, to fill our hearts with an unending openness for the well- being of others, is truly a calling we ought to always radiate in our lives and in the work we do. When Jesus told his disciples “you, yourselves give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37), He knew what He had to do; but wanted them to be partners of that action, not just bystanders, uninterested, and they found five loaves and two fish. The Lord blessed these, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to distribute. The miracle was realized through a human-divine partnership. In your work, searching to respond to the unending needs of a world which often due to its own egoism, suffers natural or manmade disasters, in your search for resources, your own commitment is what matters and God’s own blessing will complete what is missing. However small that effort is, however difficult and painful, yet it is important.
What is needed is, as Pope Francis mentioned, a deep sense of understanding about the greatness of and the power behind simple gestures of solidarity you are involved in, if it is love with an absolute and unconditional self giving, and it will lead your beneficiaries ultimately to discover God’s love in its fullness.
And so your task, that of radiating and generating the miracle of love in human reality, even though the effort may not suffice the demand, with God’s help will achieve greater results than what is seen on the surface. That is that extra bit that Caritas is called upon to give. You are not just an NGO but Christians deeply in love with your brothers and sisters whom you see. And so, while we thank God for all of you and for all those who have contributed to the effort in the past years, we assure you of our appreciation and support, and especially, our prayers for the success of your mission.
I wish to wind up this reflection with a few lines from the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis: “For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. God shows the poor “his first mercy”. This divine preference has consequences for the faith of all Christians… This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering of Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them” (EG 198).
And so be it. Amen.