St. Silouan the Athonite Mission Parish

Sermons

Sunday of the Ancestors – 13 December 2009
by Fr Roberto Ubertino

Fasting is a way to break forceful habits that take deep root in us, hardening our hearts over the years and even over generations, so fasting has prepared us to celebrate this Sunday of the Ancestors of Christ. So much of the hardening of our heart is this living out of self-centredness, where we act as if we are the centre of the universe. Such self-centredness makes us blind to the sufferings of others, for all we care about is what we want. This radical form of individualism also makes us blind to the reality that each of us is connected to each and every one, including the generations before us. This is the importance of the two Sundays before Christmas dedicated to the memory of the Ancestors of Christ.

These liturgical celebrations show us that to be truly human means to have a history and to be connected and linked to others, including the people in our past, those that we know and those that we know not. These two Sundays before Christmas dedicated to the generations that came before Christ stress the dogma of the real humanness of Christ our God. Apart from him, we experience our generational pull as a downward movement. It is what the fathers call the ancestral sin. We normally inherit the weight of the past. But in Christ the generations are pulled up, they are pulled out of the spiral of the pit. This is clearly revealed at Pascha where we see Christ in depths of Hades pulling out Adam and Eve, and all our ancestors, out of the pit.

So many of our tensions and problems in the world are inherited, we think of the struggle to heal for the generations that suffered abuse at the residential schools in Canada. Many of the people involved are now dead but the leaders of the people acknowledge that the healing has to extend also into the past for it to be real today. This week, at a residential school meeting of Truth and Reconciliation, an elder began with a prayer acknowledging the presence of those who had died and who had gone to school in the place where they were meeting—he included these ancestors in the process of forgiveness and healing.

When we look at Palestine / the Middle East / Pakistan / Darfur, sometimes it feels as if the past generations are living out their own unresolved, unforgiving issues through us. And that each generation just adds more to the weight of it. Many today even feel an obligation to avenge the previous generations, thus perpetuating the sins of their fathers. The experience of this generational pull downward we can see, for example, in families where alcohol addiction, or sexual, or racial abuse affects generations, or the weight of hurts and words spoken decades ago by parents that just don’t seem to ever heal and keep their grandchildren from them. This is what the world would be with out Christ.

The Sundays dedicated to the genealogy of Christ is good news for all of us whose past may particularly weigh down on us. It offers us a real possibility to also heal the past generations. One of the ways we do this is by praying for the dead. Another is by the way we face with courage the consequences of past generational wounds in our own life. It may mean to face a parent or a relative with courage and love. It may mean taking the risk to speak to someone who in the past has hurt us or one we loved. It may mean forgiving some one who has died. It may be to learn not to confuse my spouse’s behaviour with the family I grew up with. At times, in marriage, the effects of past generational wounding can be for couples a lifelong challenge. We can dare have hope because the Gospel today shows that Christ puts himself in solidarity with each and every one of us, including our entire human history.

Fasting in the Church is a powerful healing remedy. Fasting through the grace of the Holy Spirit, when done along with others, corrects this generational pull downward and offers all a hope for a true culture of forgiveness and communion. Fasting is a way of connecting with creation and others. It teaches us how not to continue to pollute, waste and abuse the world around us. Most importantly, fasting voluntarily identifies us with the suffering of the world, and so we discover how the fundamental need in us to eat is also the fundamental necessity to connect, to be in communion with each other. “Fasting,” says Patriarch Bartholomeos, “reminds us that what we do relates to either the well-being of others or the wounding of others.” This sense of inter-dependency, of existence in communion with the mystery of encounter that each person is, opens our generation to the kingdom and also offers the possibility of real forgiveness and healing in all our personal and collective histories.

This Sunday extends the Good News to all generations of humanity. This Sunday makes us look and embrace our history, our past, both personal and that of our common humanity. We face the past not to repeat it, or revenge it, or reject it. We can look at our common and personal history with hope because we realize that our history has become also in Christ, God’s own history. St Gregory the Theologian said: “What is not assumed is not healed.” Christ assessed the weight of our history and of all human generations. It is this that gives us hope that we are not bound to simply continue to live the past, that the sins of previous generations don’t have to continue through us. Even our relationship with previous generations is called to experience grace and freedom. Let us try to live this truth and see its truth. As Father Justin Popovich said “do it and you will know it.”

 

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