Sunday, 13 March 2011

Novena of Grace of St. Francis Xavier (Day 9) Saturday 12th March 2011 1st Sunday of Lent Year A

In the play Hamlet, there is a verse that goes like this: There’s obviously method in his madness. This evening, a current of many concerns are swirling together. It feels like mayhem or madness because we have the first Sunday of Lent and today/this weekend marks the end of the Novena of Grace [if you had come last Sunday, it was the 3rd day of the Novena, today being the 9th]. The context of this Novena is the Jubilee Year which also coincides with 50 years of Jesuit presence here. Historically, the Society of Jesus has been here far longer because St Francis Xavier was the first to establish a Jesuit presence in Malacca. Sadly, that presence was not continuous. [All we have are a sign board from the Antiquities Dept confirming that St Paul’s Hill belonged to the Society of Jesus and a tombstone of a Jesuit Bishop who probably died on the way to Japan].

In this circle of seemingly conflicting concerns, what is the method? How are the Novena, the Jubilee Year, the Jesuit presence and the 1st Sunday of Lent linked?

They are linked to a person whom we encounter in the desert. Right after His baptism, Christ entered the desert of purification. The three temptations correspond to the three evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. We think that the evangelical vows are for religious but, in actual fact, they are antidotes against avarice [poverty against greed], lust [chastity against giving in to seduction of comfort and mistaking this world to be heaven] and pride [obedience against arrogance]. There in the desert, Christ was purifying Himself for His mission—a mission that did not come from Himself. The connexion between purification and mission will help us find the method.

But, the method is not to be found in an idea. It is not even found in a vision or even a dream. There is no selling of an idea here and if at all this can be considered “selling”, the method is point out this person to you: Christ Himself.

An idea, a vision or a dream can leave you short. Ideas are what ideologies are made of. It is true that there may be different ideologies about Christ. For example, the last 50 years or thereabout we have been bludgeoned with an image that Christ was really a 1st century revolutionary—what we would call a “political agitator”. Many were sold on this idea that He came to “upset” the status quo and some bought into the band-wagon of “anti-establishment”.

That might have been a correct image of who Christ really was. He could have been this teacher of morality, a political maestro or an idealistic rabbi who stood against the establishment of the day. But, reflect upon what happened during the first wave of this movement for historical accuracy, called the Quest for the Historical Jesus. The best representative of this first wave was Albert Schweitzer, the great African explorer, missionary and doctor. They were trying to uncover the “real” Jesus stripped of all the theological coatings that theology had painted on him. But, their scholarly search stumbled only upon a Christ whose portrait resembled the one searching for Him.

For us living through a period of upheaval, it is not difficult to find a Jesus who reflects the longings of our era—a “liberator”. If there is one thing which the Quest has taught us, it is this: the “Quest” even though historically, and therefore, scientifically motivated, it was not entirely “objective” because each scholar's version of Jesus often seemed to reflect the personal ideals of the scholar.

So, how do we know who Christ is? That was why a chapel specifically for adoration was built. I know that this answer sounds stupid. But, we built a chapel where the Presence of Christ could be felt. Of course, He is present everywhere. But, this is the point. You receive Holy Communion. I would like to believe that as many as there are people here who receive Holy Communion, everyone is united in this belief: It is not just a piece of white bread but it is none other than Christ Himself that one is receiving. That is how we know Christ. Where do we find this Christ?

Richard Neuhaus once said: The world desperately needs the Church to be Church, not “do” Church differently. The theme for the Jubilee says this: As Church in faithfulness to Christ. As I have said before, the sinfulness of the sons and daughters of the Church does not erase the fact that the Church that was founded by Christ on the rock of Peter would withstand the test of time. The remains faithful to Christ. So, different fads may provide different “flavours” of Jesus if you like, but what remains is that any genuine encounter of Christ is through the sacraments and supremely the Sacrament of the Great Encounter is the Eucharist. Where does one confect the Eucharist if not at Mass? Thus, the Church confects the Eucharist, the Eucharist makes the Church—the Church is where you meet the same Christ.

So, the Mass is the great encounter and the Chapel we built is the prolongation of the encounter. Perhaps you may understand why we had the 1000-hour prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Fads will come and go but “Iesus Christus heri et hodie ipse et in saecula”—we adore the same Jesus Christ yesterday, today and forever.

Fashion is faddishly fickle. It will change but the only constant we have is the encounter with Christ through His sacraments. And this brings our method to the mission.—a mission that is of concern to us in the last 100 years or thereabout. Since the Industrial Revolution we have become more acutely aware of the injustice that exist amongst us. Christ was indeed prophetic when He said that the poor we will always have with us. I want to be clear that this prophecy was not a canonisation of “injustice”. Saying that the poor will always be with us is not the same as saying that the poor ought to be with us.

Instead, by His life, Christ brought the good news of salvation. He came to save us not only from eternal damnation but also to liberate us from the yokes of injustice. This mission has become our concern. It a crucial mission because the Church adopted a preferential option for the poor.

By now, you can see that we are concerned, and should be if we follow Christ, with our mission to and service of the poor. Ours—this parish and if you follow Jesuit spirituality—is supposed to be a faith that does justice. Translated, it is Christ and our love for Him which animates our actions for the poor. Otherwise, our actions on behalf of the poor will be nothing but expressions an ideology. The Communist tried to create a just and equitable society but where are they now? When ideology fails, where do we turn to? Thus, faith in Christ is necessary if Christianity is not perverted into a form of social ideology. In our era, Communism is Christianity without Christ.

In conclusion, I have been with you for nearly 10 years now. If I should die tomorrow, a fifth of my life would have been spent on forging a way for you to encounter Christ because your encounter with Him is the sine qua non, the one thing necessary before you take up His mission. There is a gulf of a difference between knowing the mission of Christ and the Christ of your mission. May this Jubilee be the grace of crossing from merely knowing the mission of Christ to an intense encounter of Christ Himself so that your every endeavour will be sustained by nothing but the deep love for Christ.