Wednesday, 4 December 2019

1st Sunday of Advent Year A 2019

So many of us are somnambulists. We may not know it, but we might as well be sleep-walking through life. We could be wide awake and yet our lives do not register any purpose or goal. Some just go through the motion of living a life that may slightly be better than a living dead.
Before we go on, let me wish you all “Happy New Year”. I know that the greeting does not sound at all “new” and there is definitely no feel to it. But we have effectively crossed into Year A in the liturgical calendar. And as a new year goes, this is a time for making resolutions. Even if we do not feel it, the colour purple is rather indicative of the direction our resolutions should take.

Firstly, Advent is a time of longing. As we yearn, we look back at the past to commemorate His coming in history—born of Mary, born in Bethlehem, born to be King. This is the Christmas celebration we are so familiar with. At the same time, we also look forward to His future coming at the end of time. There is an urgency we should recognise as we wait for this future coming. Why? Well, the historical coming ushered in the age of salvation. The work of redemption began with Christ coming in the flesh. Through the Cross and Resurrection, Christ has defeated Satan but the work of salvation is far from being completed. This is because creation is still on a journey. The analogy to describe this period after the first coming and before the second is that whilst the war has been won by Christ, what remains now is the mopping up of whatever resistance there is to the full inauguration of His kingdom. Imagine France liberated by the Allied Forces and yet there are still pockets of Nazis refusing to surrender. This analogy helps us understand why we are aptly described as Church Militant, the Church still at war with forces inimical to the Reign of Christ. Even though Satan has been defeated, he still does not want to concede defeat. He still conspires to bring man to his knees.

Hence the necessary preparation on our part if we are to soldier on. We are urged to wake up from this somnambulist stupor so as to appreciate the salvation that Christ has won for us and not squander it by our lukewarm attitude. So, wake up and throw off the works of darkness as the 2nd reading tells us. Embrace a life that is tempered so that what is good might lead us to what is better instead of letting the good we enjoy slide into indulgence. With Christmas parties lined up even before the 25th of December, we can easily forget the penitential nature of Advent. The Lord Himself warns us not to be caught unawares like those who partied but were washed away by the Great Deluge during the time of Noah.

To prepare is to be aware and this attitude is not alien to us. In fact, we have witnessed a development which uses the past tense of the word “awake” and that is the “woke” phenomenon. The word was first used in the 1940s as a concept that symbolises awareness of social issues and movement against injustice, inequality and prejudice. Remember the recent #Metoo wave that swept in by the tsunami of the Harvey Weinstein’s scandal? We are awake!!

Whilst it is good to be conscious and sensitive to social situations, it would also be good if we pay a bit more attention to the state of our souls. Where do we stand in the matter of eternal salvation? Can we, or rather, can I be sure that when I die, I have an assured place in heaven? In regard to this eligibility for heaven, we need to be careful of the two sins against hope. The first is despair and the second is presumption. Despair is a sin against hope in that it considers everything to end in failure, that not even God’s mercy can save a person whereas presumption sins against hope in that it takes for granted God’s mercy. In this age of cheap grace, the belief that God is merciful has been drummed into us: He cannot help but forgive. Well, this presumption can lead to the error of leniency.

Alongside leniency, one of our greatest delusion is the availability of time. We believe that we still have time and tomorrow is a favourite word for most procrastinator.

This evening, we have the Rite of Acceptance.

The formal name for this ceremony is “The celebration of the rite of acceptance into the order of catechumens and of the rite of welcoming baptised but previously uncatechised adults who are preparing for Confirmation and/or Eucharist or Reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church”. It is rather mouthful, but it helps us understand what the focus of the first Sunday of Advent is.

The phrase “previously uncatechised adults” shows us how important catechesis is and preparation too. The failure of catechesis is not merely the “unchurched” but rather the advancement of the kingdom of darkness. Whether we acknowledge it or not, there is a battle between good and evil that rages in the hearts of each one of us. In this struggle, God is often pushed to the margins because He gets in the way of life. He is frequently the last in our consideration. We tend to give Him not the best but the rest.

Hence, preparation means to refocus or rather to re-centre our lives on God. The urgency is not meant to scare but rather to encourage us. The Collect is wonderfully inspiring: “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at His coming, so that gathered at His right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom”. May we have this resolve, this burning resolution, like an athlete at the starting block, ready to spring into action; ready to run forth to meet the Christ who is also coming toward us at Christmas and at His second coming.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Christ the King Year C 2019

Habermas, a German philosopher, said something to the effect that systems, especially political or economic, take on a life of their own and they will cannibalise whatever they can in order to survive. We have witnessed this in totalitarian systems. For example, Communism literally “devoured” its young to perpetuate itself. Red Sparrow, the movie starring Jennifer Lawrence is one good example. Black Widow of the Marvel series is another example as she was the product of a self-absorbed state[1]. It just means that the system no longer serves man but instead the art of statecraft goes, he is sacrificed at the altar of political expediency or in a command economy, he is sold at the market of supply and demand. Today, as we celebrate the Kingship of Christ, it might be good to reflect on the meaning of His reign or His rule both in heaven and on earth. In relation to His sovereignty, what role do the governmental or economic systems play in the Kingdom of Christ?
In the arena of politics, this idea of kingship is not alien to us living as we are under a monarchy. Some praise our unique arrangement because we have a paramount ruler within a rotational system. He is King of a federation, voted in by the individual sovereigns from the states that have hereditary rulers. Lest I be accused of lèse-majesté, let me categorically state that, on the whole, the history of the monarchy here and elsewhere leaves much to be desired. King David may have been an exception as we heard in the first reading. He was in every sense of the word, a regent, a man who acted for God. He was described in the Book Samuel (1 Sam 13: 14) and quoted in the Acts (Acts 13:22) as a man after God’s own heart. But even he stumbled in his later years when, consumed with lust, he murdered Uriah, his general, so as to commit adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. The sins of his royal loins were like scarlet and red as crimson.

One can safely surmise that our experience with earthly royalty is at best patchy or spotty. There have been saintly rulers in Christendom, both kings and queens—Edward the Confessor of England, Louis the Pious of France, Margaret of Scotland, Elisabeth of Hungary and Elizabeth of Portugal. But by and large, royalty is just another word for excesses, honour, privilege and being entitled. And in many cases, corrupt and depraved.

The Gospel for Year C is profoundly interesting. Here we are introduced to an unexpected notion of kingship—a concept that shatters our received wisdom.

This is a King who hangs unglamorously on a Cross in the unsavoury company of two thieves. Yet, He is King as indicated in the 2nd Reading. For by virtue of His sonship, the Incarnate Son of God is King because He is the very image of the Invisible God. As the Credo proclaims, begotten from the Father from eternity, He is King by right. But, hanging repulsively on the Cross, He is also King by virtue of our redemption. If according to our profession of faith, the Credo, He is King by right, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, then in the Gospel, stretched on the Cross, He is King by conquest. By His wounds we have been healed. By His death, the gates of heaven are thrown open for the children of Adam and Eve to enter. Either way, on the throne or on the Cross, He is our King.

How should Christ be King? Is He supposed to be a King in a spiritual sense only? We have established that by right, yes, but by conquest, no. Hence, He must be King in every sense of the words, spiritual and temporal for nothing in life is outside the purview of His rule.

Our major challenge is we have accustomed to living compartmentalised lives—a bit schizophrenic if you like. Science has done a great job at excluding religion from the public realm. Religion as a public expression has been reduced to a private encounter. So, on the one hand, it is easy to imagine the reign of Christ using the terminology of spirituality. As a spiritual King, He established on earth the Church and through a hierarchical system, He rules as head of this mystical Body. On the other hand, both the state and the market are domains where religion, since it is a private matter, should not interfere. We witness this in Catholic politicians, especially in the USA, who are proud to publicly declare their religious affiliation while at the same time are quick to insist that their religion is nothing more than a private matter. 

However, the word Christendom connotes the idea that Christ’s reign is much more comprehensive and therefore inclusive rather than being restricted to the spiritual realm. The relationship between Church and State cannot be mutually exclusive where the Church is confined to serve our spiritual end whereas the state and the market have a role devoted to the temporal affairs. Supposedly, the Church leads us to heaven whilst the state and market provide for the material well-being of the people.

The state and the market do not exist solely to fulfil the material needs of the people but must always have as their goal to provide space for the practice of virtues so that its people can make their way to heaven.

The last King to die in Britain on a battlefield was the Scottish James the IV, from the House of Stuart, who was killed in 1513. In those days, it was an occupational hazard for Kings because they led their army to war and were often the first to fall. This illustration gives us an idea that to rule is to be at the service of the people. The master is first and foremost a servant. And hence, whatever system we can devise, it must be our servant rather than our master because it serves to assist us in our pilgrim journey to heaven. Christ, our Lord and Saviour, stretched on the Cross, our King, ruled through His service, giving up His life so that we might gain eternity.
We all know that Christendom no longer exist and whatever vestiges of it, many of the Christian nations are doing their best to eradicate their Christian past. In some Christian countries, the civil authority is opposed to religion especially to Christianity, the very foundation of its civilisation. Hence, where Christ cannot be King, it is left to His soldiers. We are called Church Militant for a good reason. We have a task at hand which, is to make Christ known, if not through our words, then through our actions. Let the world know that Christ is King through each one of us.

As the preface rightly reminds us, “…as eternal Priest and King of all creation, He offered Himself on the altar of the Cross, as a spotless sacrifice to bring man peace, so that He might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption, and making all created things subject to His rule, He might present to the immensity of His Father’s majesty, an eternal and universal Kingdom, a Kingdom of truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a Kingdom of justice, love and peace”.

It does not matter whichever systems we are inserted into; the task remains the same—that Christ be known and love. Hence, let us all be the soldiers Christ our King can be proud of. We have a heavy responsibility, and may the Lord bless us all.

[1] When a state, under the guise of providing relief, removes a child at the age of 3, from the care of its principal providers (parents), that is a good example of a nanny system that cannibalises its young. The child will be indoctrinated with state or rather the most current philosophy, thus perpetuating the state’s survival.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019

A few of you might be upset if this Cathedral were to be destroyed. I suspect that the disquiet or distress might arise not from a loss of aesthetics but rather from a loss of familiarity. Many of us are creatures of habit. Wittingly or unwittingly, the older we are, the more we tend to canonise the status quo. So ugly or otherwise, this structure is meaningful to some of us. We are at home here. Thus, to flippantly declare that this building is fit for demolition might create anxiety amongst parishioners.

If the destruction of a hideous building such as this could evoke that angst of disquiet, you can imagine how much more the Temple in Jerusalem. It was an awesome edifice, as Jesus Himself acknowledged, one that had taken more than 25 years to build. As He prophesied the destruction of such a magnificent building, the dismay was palpable.

But mayhem was not His point.

The point the Lord was trying to make was how one ought to be ready or to be prepared. As next Sunday is Christ the King, today marks the penultimate Sunday in Ordinary Time. And the readings have so far reflected a concern with the Last Things. One knows that he is approaching the end of the liturgical year because the tone is both eschatological as well as apocalyptical. Eschaton deals with the end of time. When the end is associated with tumultuous events, what provides hope is the apocalyptic tone of the readings. For example, the Gospel encourages those who are persecuted to hold on or to hang on because God will come, as the Responsorial Psalm indicates, to rule the peoples with fairness.

We span the era between the Ascension and the Second Coming. St Paul’s preaching to the Thessalonians consists of how our preparation is supposed to look like. Hard work built on an orderly life—in other words, live a life of virtue. In that way, the end of time will not be a time of ending but rather a stepping-stone to a new beginning. It means that when it comes, we should not be flailing about but rather be ready for it.

Being ready requires that we stand in the light and not hide in the shadow. It is better to live a good life rather than have a good life so that we will not be dragged into death clinging to whatever we have. Instead, we dare walk into death leaving behind all we have in order to appreciate the new life we are called to.

Yet, no one knows when that moment will come. During the reign of Pope Sylvester II, he predicted the end to be at the turn of the first millennium. As you can guess, rioting took place as people were afraid. As recent as 2009, the movie 2012 depicted the calamitous ending of the world with humanity struggling to preserve the good that remains of human civilisation. Nobody can forecast the end, not even our climate change predictions of choking air and rising flood can point to the exact time. This obsession with exactitude may just miss the point that the end will come most likely for each one of us individually before all of us collectively. Sometimes all it takes is to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. A lorry sideswipes your car onto the oncoming traffic and the timber trailer rams head-on into your car and everyone is dead in a split of a second.

If anything can happen, it begs the question if one is ready for anything. This readiness is not preventive as in be careful and be attentive so that you can pre-empt it before it happens. Instead, are you ready to give an account of your life before the Lord? This end time is not meant to scare us but instead to prompt to not neglect that which is most important—the salvation of our souls.

There are three words to consider when reflecting about the end time and our salvation. They are eutopia, utopia and dystopia. First eutopia is what we yearn for, that is, a good place or if you like, a good space to be in. Sadly though, eutopia is utopian in the sense that it does not exist. When St Thomas More penned his political satire, the title of his work was “Utopia” which translated literally meant “nowhere” indicating that “topia” or the place is nothing but a figment of one’s imagination. However, thinking of end-time, what is disturbing is how dystopian our vision of the end is. Our cinematic landscape is tarred with this dystopian future as it taps into our sense of doom, gloom and tomb. Zombieland and Terminator: Dark Fate are two good examples of such a hopeless outlook. It does not inspire but it definitely bogs us down. Salvation is next to useless in such a bleak and tattered future.

Truth is, there is no time in recorded human history which is not marked by trials and tribulations. The sooner we appreciate that troubles are mankind’s lot, the more prepared we might be. The description of the end, even though filled with eschatological trepidation, it is not meant to lead us into dystopian despair. Furthermore, prophecy does not make sense if there is no viable future. It only makes us stop living. If we stop living, even if we are breathing, we are as good as dead. However, when the future is filled with the infinite possibility of God’s presence, prophecy is salvific and redemptive.

We need not wait for a turn of the century for catastrophes or calamities to strike us. We always have them with us. Hence, what we need is not despair but hope. As creation groans and longs for its salvation, we place our hope that God will save us. Whilst the eschaton may be fear provoking, the apocalypse is definitely hope evoking. We should not be afraid as the Gospel suggests but instead trust that the Lord will come to our assistance, even if we are weighed down by the turmoil of our time. As we inch toward the Kingship of Christ, we trust Him that not a hair of our head will be lost. Without hope, we cannot endure. Only endurance can win us our lives. As God is trustworthy, the end of time is always an occasion of hope. Let us bless the Lord.