Monday, 15 July 2019

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2019 Year C

It is the Sunday of the Good Samaritan. Jesus is still making His resolute way to Jerusalem when a meeting with a lawyer turned into a match of wits. This learned lawyer, instead of asking Jesus, as he did in both Mark and Matthew, what the greatest commandment is, he zeroed in on the yardstick for attaining eternal life. And not in a humble manner though.

Whatever the manner he did, this question becomes for us a truly magisterial moment and more. I am interested in the more and will address it later.

The question about the greatest commandment is easily answered by both the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. One should love the Lord with the whole heart, soul, mind and strength and also to love one’s neighbour as oneself. However, the question on the benchmark for eternal life gave Jesus the opportunity to enlighten the lawyer on how to love the Lord and neighbour. So, this question is not really to establish the guideline of who our neighbours are but rather to rethink how we can be neighbours to others.

This definitely enlarges our notion of what it means to extend help to others. Human that we are, we are often limited by our categories. Often and unwittingly, we perceive through the lens of our prejudices. I have heard of people who will not rent a house to a person of a particular colour, for example. Hence, in a way, to describe the Samaritan as good is to expand the concept of neighbourliness because a good Samaritan is oxymoronic. Nothing good can come from him as good and Samaritan are both mutually exclusive. In fact, the Levite possibly crossed the road because in the Old Testament, God thought poorly of the Samaritans who live in Shechem (Eccl 50: 25-26). Therefore, in using the term, perhaps Jesus is teaching us that neighbourliness must cuts through the thickets of bias stereotyping. The Samaritan depicted as good helps us appreciate that assistance can come in the most unexpected form.

In a way, we are accustomed to viewing the notion of the Samaritan through the lens of sociability. How so? Can you name the one scourge in this country which is perhaps the embodiment of anti-social behaviour? You could shout corruption but I would say snatch theft. We read horror stories about them leaving their victims for dead. Would it not be nice to be rid of this affliction? Sociability is a measure of how we all can get along with each other no matter what. It coincides with our intuition that society has to be a place of human flourishing. Nobody wants to live in a dysfunctional society. Does it explain why so many of our compatriots have chosen to give up their citizenship for Australia, UK, US, Canada, NZ and Singapore? A functioning society is a profoundly powerful symbol of civilisation. In light of this sociability and human flourishing, to be civilised requires that we care deeply about the inequalities that exist in human societies and must strive to make right all that is wrong. Therefore, the Good Samaritan may be an icon of Man’s attempt to rid society of all kinds of prejudices in order to create a better world.

However, it is easy to miss the subtlety of this parable because we can be caught up with being neighbours to others. We all know and not just feel that something is amiss in our world which in turn becomes an impetus to do something about it. This drive is definitely augmented by our technological capabilities. We believe we have the wherewithal to make the necessary adjustments to transform the world so that being a “good” neighbour is the set standard of what a civilised society is supposed to be. In other words, the transformation we long for is another word for becoming a better human. Think about it, right? All the mod-cons have for their goal an enlargement of the space that makes human flourishing possible. We would want machines to take over our tedium of work so that we can have the chance to live leisurely. In fact, the word “scholar” is derived from the Greek “scholastes” which translates as “one who lives at ease”. So, a scholar is really a gentlemen of true leisure.

Earlier on, I mentioned about the magisterial moment and more. The more is when this Gospel of Nice we buy into might blind us to a deeper reading of the Good Samaritan. What is this Gospel of Nice? A better human being is by definition a nice person as in “Why can we not just get along with everyone and be nice”? It is a moralistic programme but the more that we might miss out is that the Good Samaritan is also a commentary on the fallen state of humanity. According to the Christological and soteriological allegory of Church Fathers like St Augustine, Jesus is the true, Good Samaritan who restores fallen mankind to the right relationship with God which the old dispensation could never do. Humanity is represented by the wounded victim after he was attacked by Satan. The Devil and his minions are personified by the thieves. The old dispensation is symbolised by the priest and the Levite. They stood for the best of what mankind had to offer but in themselves, they were unable to do anything for the victim.

It is left to the outsider and the rejected, the Samaritan who stands for Jesus Christ, to come to the rescue of wounded humanity. How much more sacramental can we get when the Samaritan uses oil and wine to salve the effects of sin on mankind. He brings the man to the inn which is a metaphor for the Church and even provided for further healing by giving power to the innkeeper, meaning the Apostles and their successors, who carry the ministry of healing through the sacrament of reconciliation.

Steeped in poverty, struggling with choking inequalities and in a world that is often mean, it is no wonder that being a neighbour—a good one, ranks highly in the modern valuation of discipleship. Christians are indeed called to be neighbours to the world. But, in the mission to better the world, the danger is to reduce it to just a human project. The parable, even though it challenges us to be good, clearly has soteriological significance—“What must I do to gain eternal life”?. Thus, the parable of the Good Samaritan has two goals. Firstly, it exhorts us to build a better world by being the good neighbour that Jesus was to the wounded. Secondly, it is to recall that we need God who in the person of Jesus has come to redeem us. We cannot do it ourselves no matter how powerful our technology is. Finally, the figure of the Good Samaritan bid us to remember that ultimately our goal is to be saved for eternal life. Nothing comes close to this objective.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019


The mission of the Seventy Two is peculiar to Luke’s Gospel. There, Jesus sent them out like lambs amongst wolves. Whilst it conjures an image of innocence in the clenched jaws of violence, it actually fits perfectly into our liturgy: “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world”. In other words, followers of Jesus are lambs sent to bear the consequences of their own sins and also of the world. What that means is that we embrace hatred not because we espouse or champion it but rather through our embrace, love may flow out through us. Just like Jesus did. The buck stopped with Him. If you remember last week’s Gospel, the Apostles wanted to call down fire and brimstone onto a village. But, instead of shedding the blood of others, Jesus took upon Himself the results of our sins so that we may be freed from sinning. If you like, the disciple, following the footsteps of His Master, allows himself to be a punching bag.

To allow others to walk all over you? Woah… stop it there, right?

In this day and age, it is truly a tall order. Ordinarily, discipleship is already next to impossible, how much more in a world of victims? Our class, gender, hierarchical or racial radars are already on hyper alert for the slightest scorn or snub to our honour or dignity. We are taught to oppose any forms of victimisation even as we ironically emphasise our victimhood. In other words, we may eschew victimisation (being victimised) but at the same time we celebrate victimhood by making sure that others know that we have been done to or aggrieved and demand that we be protected from hurt and harm. I am sure you recognise terms such as safe spaces and trigger warnings.

If we are such pathetic victims, then how can we bear insults or humiliation for the Lord? What is humility in such a culture? Indeed, the days of meekly accepting our station in life are long over as we inhale this competitive fume of entitlement and individual autonomy. I decide for myself what I want to be. So, in this dignified safe space of self-actualisation and self-determination, how can one be a lamb amongst wolves?

Perhaps there might be a way out of this problematic.

Let us explore another impossible task to see if it can shed light on what Jesus is asking of us. The famous but probably impossible exercise is the Franciscan encyclical “Laudato si”, which advocates the preservation of the environment. It is conceivably a Sisyphean task which is never going to succeed because our current model of meaning is based on consumption. The so-called ecological drive to avert an environmental disaster is easier said than done. For example, if everyone were to stop consuming, there would be a cessation of goods and services. If that happens, then, there will be an economic slowdown. The short of it, families will starve.

The sad reality is that our notion of meaning is trapped within the cycle of consumption. Most unfortunately the unchallenged logic underpinning our consumption is the endless supply of resources. Even the very green policies, adopted to avert the impending ecological disaster, are geared towards consumption. Why would we have biodegradable bags? If plastic is that bad, should we not just ban it? A plausible reason for our continued use is that we have successfully commercialise the tag “biodegradability”. Since it is biodegradable, we salve our guilt by hastening its breakdown. In other words, it is a worry-free consumption because the plastic bag will breakdown into is harmless starch components. This so-called “green policy” enables us to maintain the rapacious rate of consumption.

Some have ventured to query if there could be another basis for meaning besides that of consumption.

What is also devastating is that the current notion of meaning derived from devouring is not predicated on quantity but quality. It is not how much we can consume even though we are gluttons but rather the ability to consume. Hence, it implies that we must increase the opportunities of consumption. Simply translated: more money. In order to consume “quality stuff” we require a never ending supply of money. Perhaps you understand why the country skidded down the slippery slope of corruption. In general, however, the possibility of consumption is illustrated through exclusivity—first class travels to expensive vacations, haute fashion—no less than Birkin bags, exotic seafood—abalone, shark’s fins, spacious sport vehicles—Axia is a mobile Milo tin can or alternatively a moving coffin, luxurious condominiums—2000sq ft is a cramped refugee shack. If you were filthy rich, would you travel on Air Asia? This type of consumption generated by meaning is supported by the easy availability of money, lots of money or an obscene amount of wealth. It explains why JB is the second largest city. So many are living here and working in the neighbouring country. Why go through the hassle if money were not an objective? Nothing wrong with that but we must ask an important question.

In a world awash with money for consuming, can we truly find meaning therein?

Perhaps we should ask many of the elderly parishioners present what their greatest fears are? Abandonment? Poor health? Loneliness? What are these fears but merely masks for the fear of death and the beyond?

So, what lies beyond death? The pat answer is paradise but we do struggle to comprehend heaven. Why? It is because the meaning of the word meaning has changed. Once upon a time, meaning was derived from having moral causes gained through the service of others or of God alone. Ask the teachers who were trained in Brinsford and Kirkby. They embraced the vocation to educate the young. Many dedicated themselves to the endeavour without thinking of personal gains. Or, ask the contemplative cloistered nuns. The Carmelites, we know, live for God alone. Today, sadly, for many, meaning is acquired from being loved. Is it not why we want as many “Likes” for our Facebook postings? Or, meaning is obtained from the feeling of satisfaction and general contentment in oneself.

As you realise, a meaning that was once larger than the self is now narrowly confined to the self. We have personalised and “me-niaturised” everything. Miniaturised may as well not be spelt with “mini” but me-ni. Does this “selfish meaning” contribute to our fear of losing out, of being overlooked etc. Our neighbours in the south call it Kiasu.

Hopefully, you can now appreciate that the crux or the conjunction between the demands of Jesus for His disciples and the call to live Laudato si is found in where we locate meaning.

Meaning may begin with the self but it must end beyond the self. Jesus Himself showed us that pouring out His life for others was the greatest meaning He gave to His life. Ultimately, meaning must be directed to eternity. Without eternity or without heaven, we will always fear coming out as Nr 2. Nobody wants to be a loser. Hence, we are condemned to the misery of consuming but never discovering the true meaning of life. If that be the case, forget about being the “lamb led to the slaughter”. The choir over the weekend chose to sing the Prayer of St Francis Assisi’s. It does not make sense.

Why?

Be a punching bag for others? No way!
"Grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love with all my soul?" No way!
For when you fight with your husband, do you really care to understand him? No. More likely, you might be justifying your actions or behaviour and his job is to understand you.

We all crave to be consoled, understood and loved.

Finally, the saints see heaven as their destination. 

All meaning is derived from that goal. Even failures are seen in the light of heaven. As the Gospel ends, “Rejoice not because the spirits submitted to you but rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven”. Many of us live humble unassuming lives where no one sees the good that we do. In a self-referential culture, one that promotes the self, purgatory is to be forgotten and hell is oblivion. Well, recall most especially that when men cannot see, God sees. Peace comes from knowing that He alone is the guarantor that our loss, that our failure and ultimately that of our death will not be in vain. We are not condemned to an eternal cycle of over-consumption in order to find meaning. Instead our meaning is derived by daring to be the lamb that Jesus has sent amongst the wolves.

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019


I feel justifiably apostolic. Not in the sense of an apostle working to further the Kingdom of God. See, when I drive and someone cuts me off rudely, that is when my X-Men fantasies kick in. I wish I were Magneto. With a wave of a hand, I can flick the offending car off the road. And here is the catch: the driver does not die but he or she is maimed for life.

Hmmm. One can always take pleasure in such an evil reverie!

Do not you dare turn judgemental on me. Take a look at the Gospel today. The Apostles wanted to burn down a whole village. Me, I just want to flick off a car.

But seriously, Jesus was right in rebuking His disciples as you are if you think I have been evil in my thoughts. Jesus was on the roll. The Gospel today marks the beginning of the end. It was the turning point in His ministry and it is marked by the key phrase: When the time drew near for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem.

The first reading becomes an important lens for understanding the Gospel today. Jesus has a destination. He sets His face like flint for Jerusalem—otherwise known as the city of peace. It cannot be that just for the insults that He received, He would call down fire and brimstones. The King of peace going to His city cannot advocate violence as a response. He was quite unlike Elijah in 2 Kg 1:10. 

Secondly, in having a mission, Elijah was more congenial toward deviation. Elisha needed time to say goodbye; to perform his filial duties. I suppose such an attitude is more in keeping with our humanitarian times. Whereas the Lord was stricter. He painted three scenarios whereby the Kingdom of God takes precedence in the lives of the Disciples. Foxes have holes, the disciples do not. Rest is not an option. The dead should be left to bury themselves. The mission is that urgent for once you have put your hand on the plough, do not turn to look back.

The almost inflexible conditions laid by Jesus indicate that the Kingdom should be central in our discipleship. How should this centrality be observed in our lives? Obviously this is a loaded question. Why? If the Kingdom’s priority is at the heart of Christian life, then why is the shape of the world still so bad? Perhaps the dismal state of affair confirms that we have not got our priority right. Christianity lived to the fullest is supposed to make the world a better place. It is not heaven but it is definitely going to be a place where one can recognise God’s presence.

I was having a discussion with Bernard our sacristan earlier on an issue that we face as a parish. Yesterday, Saturday, was also the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul. As per the practice of the parish, Holy Communion is given under both species. The Mass is not celebrated in the Chapel but in the Church. However, Bernard mentioned that the crowd was basically the usual congregation for our daily Masses.

To clarify, the centrality of the Kingdom should not be equated as “Church” attendance. Not at all. However, Vatican II tells us that the Holy Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen gentium, no. 11; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1324). What does being the source and summit really mean in light of the Kingdom?

When we mouth a slogan long enough we easily forget what it stands for. In general, we will adopt a functional attitude toward it meaning that the slogan has to be seen but it does not really do anything. A good example was the “1 Malaysia” slogan--basically badges and billboards. Nothing substantial. In our case, the source and summit is translated as fulfilling our Sunday obligation. We attend Mass so that life can go on.

To give another example, yesterday evening was our usual “anticipated Mass”. Originally, the justification for attending that Mass was that those who cannot do so on Sunday can at least fulfil their obligation—doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, air traffic controllers or any of the ancillary services. Of course, according to Jewish reckoning, Saturday evening is supposed to be considered as Sunday already. If one were to follow that argument to its logical conclusion, those who attend Sunday evening’s Mass would have all failed to meet their obligation. Sunday evening’s Mass should be counted a Monday’s!

See, if we isolate the Sacraments (especially the Eucharist) from the sacramentals, it is very easy for the Sacraments to be meaningless. Imagine a pyramid. The source and summit presumably describe the top part of the pyramid. Just like an ice-berg—the fatal mistake is to think that the top of the ice-berg is all there is. In the economy of salvation, the source and summit rests on the fragile stilts of the sacramentals.

Every one of the six sacraments is directed to the Eucharist since it sits at the top of the pyramid. If every sacrament converges in that single point, how much more the sacramentals. The object of the sacramentals is to manifest due respect for the sacraments and in turn secure the sanctification of the faithful. In short, sacramentals help us to be better Christians.

There are many sacramentals. Blessings, bells, incense, water, oil, medals, crosses, holy pictures, religious vows, Church architecture, consecration of a Church, scapulars, rosaries, candles, relics and even the saints themselves are sacramentals. Doing away with them, not because we want to but because we are practical, will only result in the impoverishment of the sacraments and finally of the Eucharist. If nothing that is connected to our faith excites us, very soon, nothing will excite us. Just like a boyfriend or a girlfriend—if nothing of him or her excites you, pretty soon he or she will be out of your radar.

We are not asked to multiply the sacramentals. In is not magic. You are not required to manufacture new sacramentals. However, we are invited to appreciate them for what they do to us and for us. Our approach to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, cannot take the path of the practical but rather from them, they flow out into our daily life, sanctifying all that we have.

When we bless a car, it does not mean that our car will run better. Sometimes I make the joke that the blessing only works until 110kph. In the case of our neighbour down south, the blessing does not exceed 90kph. A blessing is not supposed to be magical. Instead, the blessing reminds us that in all the journeys we make, we must not forget that Jesus is the only journey we can make in order to have eternal life. He is, after all, the Way. Incorporating the sacramentals into our lives will enable us to appreciate better the Lord and the life that we are called to live.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sacramentals are “sacred signs instituted by the Church to prepare us to receive the fruit of the sacraments and to sanctify different circumstances of our lives (CCC. 1677)”.

Jesus makes His way resolutely for Jerusalem. In a manner of speaking, our resolution is we all desire a vibrant parish and a dedicated community centred on the Eucharist that flows out into mission. The centrality of the Kingdom, the discipleship we are called to and the mission we all engage in are means to an end for they indicate heaven as our final destination. Christ gave us seven sacraments as signposts pointing us in that direction. In heaven there are no more sacraments. We do not need them because we are already in beatific vision. But, along the way, in this place of aridity, Church gives us sacramentals, to remind us to keep our focus on God. Thus, the saints, the angels, our beloved dead who are being purified are cheering us along the way. If we hold that the source and summit of Christian life is the Eucharist, then we would be wise to use the assistance the Church gives us because she, like our mother, desires that her children come to share in God’s life fully.

Just like the Lord on His resolute journey to Jerusalem, we too make our steadfast pilgrimage for heaven. It is good to come to attend Mass on a regular basis, that is, to fulfil your Sunday obligation. But we all need to grow out of this functional attitude established upon a foundation of not doing more when one can do less. It misses the point that Christ has called us to a fullness life. It is not for the lazy but for those whose hearts are big enough to love God and more.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Corpus Christi 2019


Theoretically, Corpus Christi is 60 days after Holy Thursday, that is, if we had celebrated it on Thursday 20th June. Essentially, the feast mirrors Maundy Thursday as both point to the Eucharist. The difference is the liturgy of Holy Thursday has a number of foci—apart from the Institution of the Eucharist, there is the Washing of the Feet which is tied to the Ordained Priesthood. Finally, after the Supper at the Upper Room, the Eleven with Jesus adjourned to the Garden of Gethsemane where He experienced His great agony. It is a day steeped in the sadness of betrayal that led to the Passion of the Christ.

In contrast, Corpus Christi highlights the Eucharist in a manner that allows us to rejoice at so great a gift for the salvation of mankind. It may be a commemoration less than a 1000 years old. Yet, one can even say that the solemnity has a fortuitous beginning in Belgium. It was like a pre-emptive strike against a Europe just before the onset of the Reformation.[1] It was at that time that there arose the first serious challenge to the long-held belief in the real, true and substantial presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

As a result of the Protestant Reformation, for many Christians, the Eucharist is no more than a symbolic remembrance of the meal Jesus had with His disciples. But for those believers in whom there is to be found, a valid succession of the priesthood, Catholics and Orthodox, the Eucharist is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus the Lord.  

Since He is fully human and fully divine, the Eucharist does make it easier for us to have a relationship with the invisible God. Through the Eucharist, God enters our soul in a real and personal way. As it is rightly stated, reception of Holy Communion transforms us into Him whom we have consumed.

This progressive change explains our procession—a feature central to the celebration of Corpus Christi. How symbolic can we be that the whole Body of Christ, meaning the congregation, is carrying the Body of Christ signifying our longing to be transformed into Him. Of course, transformed into Him does not mean that we are Him but that we become very much a copy of Who He is. St. Athanasius (296-373 AD) used to say, “God became man, so that man might become like God.”  Hence, our dear Lord, symbolised by the wine, completely humbled Himself in order that we, symbolised by the water, could be built up to share completely and inseparably in His divine life. This overt display of our faith is not a pretentious parade but a public petition for God to deepen our faith so that our reception of Him becomes more personal and therefore more life-changing. We know we can never measure up to the mark but that should not stop us from imploring His grace.

As we walk along the street, we become more mindful of Who it is that we are in the presence of. We enter into an attentive prayerfulness because we recognise that, under the appearance of bread, He is truly with us, He is really processing through the streets and He is essentially interested in our joys and sorrows. Furthermore, there is a paedagogical purpose in a procession. If you recall Christ on the way to Calvary, then the procession also has a bodily and an organic function of teaching us that the Cross is a definitive feature of discipleship. We will have to carry our cross, just like Jesus did, if we want to follow Him.

The trouble is we all inhabit a world of private spirituality. In this closeted world, we undoubtedly feel more comfortable with discreet practices. Just like when we make the sign of the Cross before saying grace. We trace it over an area as small as possible. With good reasons too. Furthermore, the usual question as to why we need to go to church since we can pray at home arises out of this fear that we be labelled “hypocrites” for not living up to what we preach. So, in preparing for processions, in general, we prefer restrained frugality to pompous pageantry. It would not be wrong to surmise that perhaps, we are doing it for the sake of getting it over and done with. Why? Primarily because it does not make sense to those who do not believe. Who wants to look like fools carrying an inanimate object around?

However, in a proper procession, there are supposed to be four altars set up along the way. These altars represent the four corners of the world and in a way, they invite us to make known to the world that God is interested in our salvation. Hence, the procession coupled with stopping at the four altars highlight the Church as the vehicle that God has intended for the salvation of the world. Catholics themselves might even find this hard to believe in but that is the truth. The banners being carried in front actually call to attention that this Body of Christ on earth, also known as the Church militant, is engaged in the fight against Satan and against our sinful selves. The Church, through the Eucharist, was established for the business of saving souls.

Finally, if the Blessed Sacrament is such a wonderful gift, should we not shout that out on top of the mountains? “Hey, this is truly the Bread of eternal life”. A muted procession might just surface a humbling realisation that we do not truly believe in this gift. Perhaps, it is time to change this. 

In order to grow into Whom we believe in, the parish should move in the direction of adoration, on a regular basis, before the Blessed Sacrament. The adoration rendered to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is simply the Mass extended. Adoration actually prepares our soul to receive Him more deeply and helps us make our reception of Him more personal and more transforming.

24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year—adoration is the fruit of this conversion. When we begin to understand how much God chooses to be with us, in sacramental form—truly, really and substantially present to us, then adoration 24/7/365 will be the result. We want to and not because we have to. Adoration cannot come as a result of fiat or imposition but rather as the fruit of our conversion.

We should not need this but our faith can be helped if we know it. In the Shroud of Turin, the blood type found therein is AB+. There are about 140 Vatican-approved Eucharistic miracles, where either the host or wine lose their appearance of bread and wine, turning into human tissue or blood. Wherever scientific testing has been carried out the same result of AB+ for the blood samples has been obtained. We do not need this but these findings provide a profound perspective for what we believe in.

In the procession, children always take the lead because there is an innocence about them which allows them to enter the Kingdom. We should imitate them them. So, on Corpus Christi we ask God for the grace of clarity to grasp this gift so great in our life. For the saints, the Eucharist is their strength, their consolation and the centre of their lives. May it be ours too.







[1] Throughout history there have always been doubts about the possibility of “transubstantiation”. Lanciano is the oldest in the series of Eucharistic miracles. In the case of Corpus Christi, a German priest on a pilgrimage to Rome stopped to celebrate Mass in Bolsena. He was affected by the debates amongst theologians whether Jesus could truly be present in the sacred species. As he offered Mass, blood started seeping from the consecrated host onto the altar and corporal. The incident was reported to Pope Urban IV who sent delegates to investigate. The host and blood-stained corporal was brought to him in Orvieto where they remain till today. In a way, the visions of St Juliana of Mont Cornillon in Belgium were confirmed. A mystic and a nun, she was instructed by Jesus in her visions to establish a liturgical feast for the Holy Eucharist. She tried for many years when finally she convinced the future Pope Urban IV to create this special feast. After her death, the Pope instituted the feast for the Universal Church and celebrated it for the first time in Orvieto in 1264, a year after the Eucharistic miracle in Bolsena. 


Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Trinity Sunday Year C 2019


Have you heard Charlie Puth’s “We don’t talk anymore” which features Selena Gomez? They are wrong. Our problem is not the scarcity of talking. We talk too much. The trouble is the loss of thinking so much so that whenever we need to explain the Trinity, we seem to retreat behind a kind of veiled mystery before which we stand condemned to a muted silence. Sure, our prayers are Trinitarian in nature—to the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit—-but that is probably the best description we can or dare to give.

Why?

We have lost the language of God—theologia. Instead, we are more at home with the language of work—oikonomia. Given our “homelessness” with theologia when faced with such a mystery as the Trinity, we easily resort to a practical explanation (oikonomia) that is, we speak of God in terms of how He is related to us. So, we resort to what we are most familiar with, that is, functionality. For example, we all habitually use a calculator and do we really care “how” pressing of this and that would yield a certain result except that it generates a number? Our idea of the Trinity is basically the economic Trinity. It means we generally do not talk about Who God is but rather What God is in relation to creation and humanity. Now, apart from functionality, is it important to understand inner life of the Blessed Trinity?

It is because the Trinity is “the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life” (CCC 261). In order that we worship the one true God, we need to know the God whom we adore. If not, we might fall in any one of these heresies—monarchianism, modalism, tritheism, subordinationism and so forth.

So, who is He? The God who is one in three persons.

When someone asks: “Who are you”? This question might elicit a reply like “I am a human being”. That is not properly the answer. Instead it should be the response to this question: “What are you”? The question who one is should draw the response, “I am so Mary” or Joseph or Peter and so forth.

Both the pronouns “what” and “who” may help us navigate one of the hardest theological mysteries that Christianity stands on: a belief in One God who is a Trinity of persons. The Trinity are the same in what they are—they are one. But, they are different in who they are—they are three. If you were to ask God this question, “Who are you?”, you will draw three answers as in “I am the Father”, “I am the Son” and “I am the Holy Spirit”. But, when you ask them “What are you?”, then the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each will answer, “I am God”.

But that does not make them three gods.

The Council of Florence in AD1338-1445 gives us definitions which might help us understand better the reality that God is Trinitarian. When we speak of what constitute the Blessed Trinity, there is one nature in God. There are two processions—generation and spiration. There are three persons and finally there are four relations.

There are two processions in God because the Son “proceeds” from the Father, and the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son”. Out of these two processions we derive four eternal relations but realise that there can only be three persons in God. The four eternal relations in God are.

1. The Father actively and eternally generates the Son. 
2. The Son is passively generated of the Father.
3. The Father and the Son actively spirate the Holy Spirit.
4. The Holy Spirit is passively spirated of the Father and the Son

Only relations 1, 2 and 4 are persons. Both the Father and the Son actively spirating the Holy Spirit cannot constitute another “person” because they are already persons in relation to each other in 1 and 2.

The Trinity in One is how we describe our God. If you can remember your baptism, you were not baptised in the Names but specifically in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Nor did you sign yourselves after dipping your finger into the Holy Water font, in the Names. This doctrine is not of our invention but rather it is a revelation from God Himself. Apart from the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Sacred Scripture gives us plenty of references to God as being one in three.

According to the Compendium of the Catechism, “God has left some traces of His trinitarian being in creation and in the Old Testament but His inmost being as the Holy Trinity is a mystery which is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of the Son of God and the sending of the Holy SpiritThis mystery was revealed by Jesus Christ and it is the source of all the other mysteries [CCCC 45].
Before Jesus and Pentecost, we could not have known in a definitive manner that God is a Trinity. It is God Himself who draws us into the relationship He wants to have with us as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

A good analogy for the description of the 4 relations but 3 persons, that is, a good way of conceptualising the Trinity, is to describe God as love. If God is love, then the nature of love is self-communication. Humanly speaking, we describe a person as “bursting” with joy. Is that not a metaphor for self-communication? If God is the penitude of love, then the Father is the lover. The lover has to have a beloved. Hence, God the Son is the beloved. St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians gives us this beautiful insight that Jesus is the image of the Unseen God which makes our Creed comes alive when we recite it—“God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made. consubstantial with the Father”. In the eternal reflexion of the Lover and the Beloved, we find the mutual love between Father and Son who is the Holy Spirit. The best illustration for this mutuality is to picture both the Father and Son breathing or actively spirating in one accord the perfect love for each other. It is in this image of the Father, the Son and the Love between them that man is called Imago Dei, made in the image and likeness of God. He invites us into the love that exists within the Trinity of persons.

When we know a person, we often know him or her through the work they perform. In a way then, God’s work, that is the economic Trinity, is how we get to know Him. But, to know someone functionally is rather different from knowing someone personally. We ease without effort into a functional relationship. You see this in our Church—people calling each other only because of work, no?[1] There is a shortage of EOMHC and a functional call is put out to get people to step up and fill the vacuum. Functionality helps us to keep a distance but when we get to know a person personally, we enter into their lives. At a human level, the entrance into a person’s life can be messy because of the human condition. For example, a beggar. It is so easy to give him RM10 and in out in our mind the Last Judgement hoping that Jesus will remember us when He separates sheep from goats. At the same time pray that the beggar will have moved on to his next target. It is too messy to get into the reality of a beggar’s life.

But with God, it is different altogether. To enter into the personal life of God is to enter into the love of God. If God is love, then the Trinity is His best description. This Trinitarian God loves us and wants us to know Him. He created us out of love, and we are meant to live in His love and to live for love. Without an appreciation of the love that God is and what we are called to, it is impossible to embrace Jesus’ teaching of laying down one’s life for the other and also to love one’s enemies. If God is relationship, created in the image of God just means that we are created for relationships. Thus, every Sunday is basically Trinity Sunday—a celebration not of doctrine or dogma but of who God is and whom we are called to be—imago Dei—a reflexion of the relationship that God is. This is the magnificent power of love that the world sorely needs to witness. Instead, like the rest of the world, we are often drunk in the love of power failing to realise that only the power of love can change the human heart. Hence, if Christianity were to make more sense than all the competing religions, then the best conviction it can give the world is the love of the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit working in us and through us.


[1]To a certain extent, utilitarianism, practical though it may be, can leave us with a sense of dissatisfaction that is destructive. How so? Highly autonomous self-made creatures usually prefer functional relationships because they are practical and professsional, minus the messiness of emotional attachments. Hence, we use others as stepping stones to becoming who we are. In a world which is thoroughly messing, utilitarianism which has for its principle the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people, may account for the fact that we are trying so hard to proof to God that He is deficient in His works. The quest for justice, even though noble, could also be symptomatic of us trying to show God short and we here on earth struggle our mighty best to make the world aright so that we can present the world, a better world, back to God. It is definitely a symptom of our lack of trust in this God whom we have been invited to know personally.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Pentecost 2019


The other part of this great country, the more sizeable section of it has just marked its harvest festival—Kaamatan and Gawai. Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover, is basically a similar type of celebration. It is an occasion to offer in thanksgiving, the first fruits to God and when the Temple still existed, it culminated with a trip to Jerusalem.

Luke’s placement of the Holy Spirit’s descent during a harvest festival is quite prescriptive for us all. The birth of the Church within the context of harvesting or gathering provides a compelling testament to the missionary nature of who we are—the Body of Christ. The head who came to gather humanity into a people of God and now is seated at the right hand of the Father has left behind His body to continue His mission.

The birthday of the Church through the dynamic agency of the Holy Spirit inaugurated her missionary endeavour. Prior to the Holy Spirit’s coming, the Apostles were cowering behind closed doors, fearful of what might happen to them. After receiving the power and charisms of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles immediately went out and preached the message of Jesus to everyone—especially to those who spoke other languages.

The words “Apostle” and “Mission” are both characterisations of sending. The designation “Apostle” comes from the Greek “apostollein” meaning to be a messenger sent forth whereas the word “mission”, derived from the Latin “missionem” most probably associated with a Jesuit being sent abroad as an agent, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, to “preserve and augment the faith of the Catholics in England”—a mission when captured inevitably ended with death—either by beheading if you were a nobility or being hung, drawn and quartered if you were a proletarian.

If the Church is by nature missionary, then, how is she missioned? We are conditioned to think of mission mostly in ad extra terms. Just like the Apostles standing at the windows thrown open, the image paints a picture of them talking to those who do not believe. However, Vatican II gives us a more comprehensive picture of what mission should be in our era.

A cardinal during Vatican II sketched a scenario for the Church’s missionary undertaking when he spoke in terms of ecclesia ad intra and ecclesia ad extra, meaning that the mission is both within and without the Church—inside and outside the Church.[1]

The scandals of the recent past, within and without the Church has also rendered the missionary undertaking more arduous. Just to refresh our collectively perfect but terribly short memory, you may have heard of Barings Bank, Enron or Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis. If not, maybe Cows for Condo might jolt your memory and our very special cherry-topping 1MDB. Top these corporate scandals with ecclesial failures in the area of chastity. The reason for the almost excessive and obsessive scrutiny on the Church is because people have this innate sense that if the world were that wrong, at least, let the Church not be so. In a way, it is a back-handed compliment to who we are as Church. The professional standard that we are presently initiating is simply proof of how far we have fallen from who we are supposed to be which leaves the Church with a challenging proposition when it comes to preaching the Good News.

Today, more than ever, in a credibility-challenged society, the mission ad intra and ad extra are almost seamless. We cannot hope to be an effective messenger out there if we have a credibility deficit in here. The foundation of our message must be built on our trustworthiness, starting personally with each one of us. Christ’s message stands or falls on our shoulders. Without internal reform, we simply thwart the Holy Spirit’s mission to unite all in Christ[2] because we have failed to pay attention to the mission ad intra. The mission ad extra must begin with the reform ad intra.

Let me illustrate how crucial that is at the most fundamental level. We must know who we are and what we are about. A Protestant pastor once said to a Catholic priest, “If I believe what you believe, I will not just fall on my knees but I would fall on my face”. He was referring to the Blessed Sacrament. When the Blessed Sacrament is in procession, what is noticeable is how Catholics basically carry on their usual business—read the papers, talk, laugh or eat when in reality, recognising “Who” is passing by, we should instinctively fall on our knees (for those who can). Somehow it is proof that for so many of us, the Blessed Sacrament is no more than a piece of blessed bread. Holy? Yes, but nothing more than a symbol. We may know what it is (sacred) but we do not know who it is (Jesus truly, really and substantially present). At the most basic level, the renewal ad intra requires strengthening the foundation of who we are and what it means to be Catholic. In short, the need for proper catechesis. Just recently I have been asked to approve the new signage for attire and behaviour in Church. The proper code of conduct is derived from knowing Who it is that we are coming before and not from an obsessive fixation with “rigid laws or regulations”.[3] Poor choice of attired is a sign of a lack of conversion. And the same too can be said of someone who regularly comes late for Mass. He or she is waiting for conversion.

Reform and renewal ad intra with the aid of the Holy Spirit makes us effective in reaching out to those who are waiting to know Jesus Christ. As agents of the Spirit, our lives are transformed through the gift of adoption we receive from Baptism, strengthen to be soldiers of Christ through Confirmation, healed from the debilitation of sin through Confession and nourished for the mission by the Eucharist. With the Spirit’s gifts we can bear His fruits a plenty.[4]

Unfortunately, the consequence of Original Sin stares us in the face. Desiring to be good is no guarantee that we will not sin, much less knowing who we are. It does not follow that the more conscious we are of our identity as Catholic and Christian, the less we sin. Instead, the contrary may be true. In some ways, we are all hypocrites because there is often a gap between what we publicly profess and how we privately behave. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit never gives up on us for He waits patiently to assist us in closing the gap and to reduce the credibility deficit we have. Our duty is to collaborate with the Him. St Paul VI, in Evangelii nuntiandi said,Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (EN41). Thus, Pentecost is a personal invitation to each one of us to be docile in order for the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us, as the Body of Christ, so that the Church may carry out what her Lord and Saviour had tasked her to do—to be His Body in the world for the harvest is great indeed.


[1]Two documents best illustrate this two-fold mission. The first is Lumen gentium, that is the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church reflecting the mission ad intra whereas the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes directs our attention to the mission ad extra, focusing on the Church’s missionary activity in the world. To assist us in our mission ad intra, the Church gave us the first document of the Council, that is, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, otherwise known as Sacrosanctum Concilium. And to aid us in navigating a world which basically does not know her Lord and Saviour, we are guided by the Decree of Ecumenism, that is, Unitatis redintegratio. In short, the Church was given fresh insights into her self-definition, her relationship with Christians and non-Christians, in particular both Judaism and Islam.
[2]Christ came at a particular time and hence His mission has a limited reach. The Holy Spirit through the Church is to extend the frontiers of Christ’s restricted particularity by bringing all under His headship, meaning the headship of Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father.
[3]Sadly, we have lost our sacramental sensibility. Traditionally when we see the Bishop, we kiss his ring. But, in our age of data democratisation, meaning that we are all equal on account of our egalitarian finger—Google, such behaviour of kissing the ring would come across as obsequious bowing and scraping. But, the older generation know that the Bishop is the fullness of priesthood. It is a sense of the sacraments so much so that according to  Nr 49 of The Ceremonial of Bishops: “When, in a particular case, there is a tabernacle on the altar at which the bishop is to celebrate, the Blessed Sacrament should be transferred to another fitting place”. In no way can it be interpreted as an exaltation of the bishop with respect to the mystery of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Instead, the ring signifies the Bishop’s marriage to the local Church and typically, when the Bishop wears a pectoral cross, it should have no corpus on it because the Bishop himself is to the corpus, laying down his life for his bride, in imitation of our Saviour (Jn 15: 13 and Eph 5:25).
[4]Charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity (kindness), goodness, longanimity (generosity), mildness (gentleness), faith, modesty, continence (self-control), and chastity.