Sunday, 17 May 2020

6th Sunday of Easter Year A 2020

As the weeks stretched into months, the extended movement control order seems to have prolonged our Lent even as Easter is drawing to its close. Though the exuberance or the energy of Easter is muted by the anxiety and fear surrounding the never-ending pandemic, we are never in total darkness. Yes, we can sense the end of Easter coming because four days from now we will mark the Ascension. However, as if we were watching a trailer of a movie, we catch a glimpse of the Pentecost of the Holy Spirit in the 1st Reading and are introduced to Him as the Advocate (Paraclete) in the Gospel. The passage taken from the Last Supper when read in the light of Easter gives us hope because we are now promised the Holy Spirit.

The coming of the Holy Spirit inaugurates a new dispensation or arrangement in the economy or plan of salvation. Christ who fulfilled the Father’s mission of redemption whilst He walked the earth will now continue to save the world through His Church. The same mission is carried out with the powerful assistance of the Holy Spirit. 

With the Holy Spirit, the Gospel is carried away from Jerusalem to Judaea, to Samaria and through Paul, to the ends of the world. In the 1st Reading, we note Philip the deacon, whose election is recorded in the Acts, had successfully evangelised the Samaritans (sworn enemies of the Jews) and they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. When the Apostles—Peter and John laid hands on them, they received the Holy Spirit. While the separation between baptism and reception of the Holy Spirit in a way prefigures the practice of reserving the Sacrament of Confirmation to the Bishop, the point was possibly to highlight the Pentecostal experience that they had of the Holy Spirit. 

Without a doubt, the success achieved by Philip should be attributed to the Holy Spirit. And yet, equally crucial to the ministration or preaching of the Gospel is the agency of the man. In other words, God works through His human instruments as St Teresa of Avila reminds us “Christ has no body now but yours”. Hence, Philip became the voice of the Holy Spirit. Philip did, as what St Peter exhorted “(A)lways have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have”. The agency of man is central to the spread of the Gospel. 

How do we evangelise? As a quotation goes, “You might be the only Gospel that others read”. Two points to take note of most especially in this time of pandemic. 

Firstly, we evangelise by becoming docile instruments of the Holy Spirit. By docile, it implies that we be active in knowing and living our faith. There is a correlation between theory and practice, orthodoxy and orthopraxis, or thinking and doing. As social distancing dictates, anything that is considered non-essential has ground to a stop. In terms of formation, our knowing may stagnate since we are not fed intellectually. Thankfully, the internet grants easy access to trusted knowledge banks which we can tap in. Instead of bingeing on Netflix, we could invest time in reading or updating. To be able to give reason for our hope requires that we nourish ourselves intellectually; grounding the knowledge of our faith on solid foundation so that we can testify to why we believe in what we believe in. 

Secondly, as we live in an age of constant surveillance and instant information, we have to deal with the reality of what is called the credibility gap. All one needs nowadays is to whip out a phone and voila, someone is virally famous or infamous as many cases are. Rightly or wrongly, the truth no longer resides in being true in itself meaning that it is not enough that truth is objective. Instead, truth is narrowly defined as credibility in the sense that no matter how objective it is, it does not matter if the person who states it does not adhere to it. In other words, veracity is gauged by hypocrisy. A good example is the statement that smoking bad is invalidated by a smoker who makes the assertion. Our challenge is that when truth is defined by “credibility”, the standard of morality will drop as the integrity-deficit of our decision makers can become an excuse for our lack of virtue or moral depravity. 

It is not supposed to be that way, but we live in an age of “seeing is believing”. Whether we like it or not, the articulation of one’s actions speaks louder than the eloquence of one’s elocution. It is primarily through the manner of life that we evangelise the world. In short, holiness does not consist only of coming to Church. It requires that our Gospel be preached through our actions. 

When this pandemic is over, we will have to deal with the aftermath. We do not fully know what the effects of a sustained isolation are going to be like as we are dealing with the anxiety as to when this pandemic will tide over. For some people, the world might as well have ended because the lifting of the lockdown will see them out of employment. All the more, Christians need to give the reason for their hope. Hope does not take away the pain of suffering thought it can ground us in the certainty that even though we live in difficult times, God is still in charge. He who had bought us at the price of His Son’s life will not abandon us. It is not time to let go of our praying. That is why the rosary chain started at the beginning of the lockdown must continue. And all kinds of spiritual exercises that one is engaged in, continue with them. Though we are separated, we are not alone. Jesus is always there with and for us. Often, He uses His human instruments to reach those who are in need. 

Post-pandemic will truly be a test of morality as we become the voices, the hands, the feet, the eyes of Jesus in the world. It will be a great time of Catholic courage especially when we help rebuild society—this time by looking out for those at the fringes of society. A neighbouring country famed for her progress now realises that the contagion goes unabated not amongst her cultured and sophisticated natives but rather in the hidden and segregated immigrants. This is not a moment for smug sanctimony or virtuous self-satisfaction. We could be worse because our immigrants are not segregated. Instead, they are unseen, unacknowledged, and untested. Our infection numbers could be higher. The greater number amongst the crowded indentured workers merely highlights that our consuming lifestyle is not restricted to the consumption of material resources but is premised on the massive exploitation of cheap labour. Consumerism devours humanity because this unseen resource is someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, husband or wife. As Jesus cared for His sheep, we will also have a lot to care for. There was never a time when the Church did not rise to the occasion when she was needed—she educated the poor and she cared for the sick. Today, we will have to tend to those who fall by the wayside because they cannot keep up with the race to material prosperity. 

Finally, St Paul VI in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi says “for the Church, the first means of evangelisation is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one's neighbour with limitless zeal. Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”.