Tuesday, 9 July 2019

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.