Saturday, 3 June 2017

7th Sunday of Easter Year A 2017

Catholics are, in general, regarded as less of being Christian than being superstitious. According to 1 Tim 2:5, there is only one mediator between God and Man and He is Jesus Christ. And Catholics do not seem to grasp that because the contour of their religious horizon is outlined by so many devotions. We pray through Mary and on top of that, we also go through the saints. Furthermore, what is this preoccupation with novenas?

There are so many novenas and the one distinguishing mark about them is the figure of nine. For example, the Simbang Gabi, a novena much loved by the Filipinos and takes place nine days before Christmas.

According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, "the simplest explanation of the Christmas novena is the nine months of Christ in the womb. But for every novena of preparation, as also for every novena of prayer, not only the best explanation but also the best model and example was given by Christ Himself to the Church in the first Pentecost novena. He Himself expressly exhorted the Apostles to make this preparation. And when the young Church had faithfully persevered for nine full days in it, the Holy Ghost came as the precious fruit of this first Christian novena for the feast of the establishment and foundation of the Church".

Perhaps the Proddies were right about this. Like the encrustation attached to a sunken ship, we fail to appreciate what we have for what it truly is. Today is the 3rd of the Novena to the Holy Spirit. Just like the "disappeared" 7th Sunday of Easter when replaced by the Ascension, for many of us, these nine days between Ascension and Pentecost count for nothing. 


Within a Pelagian framework, notably in a self-made, self-help, self-actualised cosmos, the notion of a "deity" is almost redundant. God for us has truly become "Emmanuel" in the fullest sense of the word. It means that we want a deity distant enough not to threaten us with his demand but proximate enough to accede to our every desire. Is it any wonder that many novenas are organised along the themes of intercessions, petitions and favours? If God exists, He serves a purpose in my existence--to canonise me as the centre of the universe.

The Gospel though, provides a purpose that far exceeds one's mundane needs. But, before we delve into what that aim is, it must be stressed that our needs, are not bad in themselves, because one should avoid any whiff of Gnosticism whereby the material world is rejected. Hence, petition is an accepted form of prayer as suggested by the Pater noster: Give us this day our daily bread.

Even though we are encouraged to seek, what we ask for should always coincide with what the Lord intends to give: eternal life. One of the most precious gifts, blessings or possessions and certainly more desirable than wealth, is health. If one does not visit a hospital, especially a subsidised one, one would never think that there are that many people who are sick. Perhaps it explains why Lourdes as a place of pilgrimage is infinitely more popular than Fatima since the intent of bathing in the waters is asking for cures of all kinds. We desire health in order to enjoy wealth and if judged by the number of movies centring on the theme of immortality, we would like to live forever. Like 50 is the new 30 or life begins at 70? But, the purpose of eternal life is not to live forever. Instead, eternal life consists of this: to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.

Knowledge is the basis for eternal life. Unfortunately, in a knowledge-based economy, knowledge is regarded as power. According to this reckoning, the more one knows, the more powerful one can be. If you think about it, WikiLeaks and espionage are both battlegrounds for knowledge--that he who controls the flow of information has greater power. However, knowledge in the biblical sense is not the amassing of facts or figures or even making connexions between the conspiracies we have. Instead, knowledge points in the direction of relationship, as in, when Adam knew Eve, she conceived and gave birth to Cain. This knowledge of God is relational rather than intellectual for it bids us enter into the full acknowledgement of who we are and who God is. It is a recognition of our status as creatures--In Him we live, we move and have our being—who are dependent on God.

These days between the Ascension and Pentecost are not simply passing days but truly a time of preparing oneself and waiting for the coming of the Spirit. They also put into perspective the way we have conceived of novenas so far. Instead of an exercise to gain God’s favour, the investment of time in pray is for the human will to bend and fit itself into God’s plans.

In terms of waiting, for a generation easily distracted by mobile devices, it can be excruciating. This is exacerbated by the expectation that the world revolves around us. Thus, we easily forget that waiting is built into the status of dependency. Like a lover waiting for the beloved, we wait for the Lord so that our hunger can be deeper and our reception richer.

If the eternal life given by the Lord is premised on entering into a relationship with Him, then like Mary and the 11 in the Upper Room, we follow them in prayer. Instead of the usual asking for God to answer our prayers, perhaps it is good to implore the Lord to grant us the gifts of the Spirit--wisdom, understanding, reverence (traditionally known as piety), knowledge, right judgment (or counsel) courage (or fortitude), and a sense of wonder and awe (otherwise called fear of the Lord)--so that we can enter into a deeper and more loving relationship with Him.