Sunday 19 May 2024

Pentecost Year B 2024

Cliche though it may sound, happy birthday. Pentecost is traditionally marked off as the birthday of the Church. Just like a father and his daughter or a mother and her son are relational terms, so too are Pentecost and the Apostles gathered in the Cenacle with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

We catch a glimpse of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Church in the first public act after the tongues of fire came to rest on those gathered in the upper room. Picture a group of frightened men and the sudden appearance of the tongues of fire. Imagine the exhilaration of Mary. She alone amongst them possesses the certainty of hope and the fullness of grace. She rejoiced at the incarnation and birth of her Son and now once again, at the conclusion of the proto-novena, she rejoices at the birth of His Body, the Church. With the Holy Spirit behind them, the Apostles threw open the windows of the Cenacle to welcome a multitude waiting for the Gospel of Salvation.

Ever since the phrase the “spirit of Vatican 2” entered into our vocabulary, we tend to imagine the Holy Spirit as spontaneously free but here we realise how closely linked the Spirit is with the Church. This association is definitely closer than some of us would have liked it. It is related by Luke in Acts as (1) “the disciples devoted themselves to the doctrine of the Apostles, (2) to the common life, (3) to the Breaking of Bread, and (4) to prayers…”. These descriptions of the Holy Spirit’s presence do not leave much space for free-spirited movements in the way we would like to believe.

The Spirit is definitely not the “spirit” of the times. The 2nd Reading for the Solemnity cautioned that self-indulgence is the opposite of the Spirit. The list of sins is a collection. But the point here is not in the enumeration, that is, the counting of sins. Rather, the intent is to show how the Spirit’s descent upon the Apostolic community is part of the great and ongoing movement of creation, redemption and salvation.

Salvation is indeed a serious business. The Holy Spirit’s role through the Church is to transform individual lives and also to shape human history. Our role is to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. As St Cyril of Jerusalem pointed out that “the Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to counsel and to console”. Echoed in the CCC, His task is to “inspire, guide, correct and strengthen one’s Christian life”. Through the Church, the Spirit is the continuation of Christ’s presence and mission.

The task before the Holy Spirit is to continually work out our redemption and salvation. He is not a Bohemian spirit that indulges the present causes, fancies or trends. Sometimes the current fads can make us forget why we need the Spirit. Take a look at a current development. If in the past, people were easily labelled as sick or possessed etc, today the pendulum has swung to the other side. Nobody is sick. Instead, one has a syndrome or an addiction or a preference or a fetish. Since nobody is sick, every expression that we can think off, can be justified by turning to the so-called “spirit of the times”. We need to “spirit” to sanctify our sickness but that is not the mission of the Spirit.

Instead, pay closer attention to the Sacrament of Baptism. In this rite, we are cleansed of our sins because we are sickened by sin and through adoption we are made children of God. Our bodies become the Temple of the Holy Spirit which then binds us closely to the Church. For the sake of the Church and her mission, the Holy Spirit gives each one of us gifts so that we can bear His fruits to strengthen the Body of Christ. Through our membership in the Church and in our engagement with the world, we are expected to bear fruits.

The descent of the Holy Spirit enlivens the imagery of the Vine and the branches. This organic structure sees Christ the Head bound to the Church His Body and that connexion is animated by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes God’s plan for each of us real, and we know the Holy Spirit by what He does in each life. As the Catechism says, [T]he mission of the Spirit of adoption is to unite [God’s children] to Christ and make them live in Him…” (CCC, No. 690).

Thus, the Holy Spirit’s presence is not for us to do what we want but rather to do what Jesus wants in terms of salvation. He calls us back to who and where God wants us to be. He reveals Christ to us and through baptism He makes us more like Him and to live with Him in eternity. In short, He is more boring than He is exciting.

The Catechism gives many mundane instances where we can discern the Spirit’s presence. He reveals Himself through Sacred Scripture which He inspired. He sustains the timeless Traditions of the Church, through the Magisterium which He assists. Through the different charisms and gifts which He bestows, He builds the Church up.

What is so regular (almost boring) is how He is present in the liturgy of the Church through words and symbols so that we can remain in Communion with the Vine. The Eucharist that we celebrate has no meaning without the Spirit. “Send down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ” sounds familiar. Together with the words of Institution, we enter into the Real Presence of Jesus.

Finally, the Holy Spirit’s coming down on the Apostles may have been spectacularly narrated but His presence amongst them is a bit more pedestrian or uneventful. He is not showy except to manifest the Father’s love and the Son’s filial sacrifice. His presence is always there in His Church to ensure that we are fed with the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, this feast of heaven, the Bread of Angels given is not just so that we might gain life in eternity. Rather, He gives us supernatural food so that we, the Body of Christ, can become alive in this world and become witnesses through love and charity to make this world a little more like heaven. The divinisation of life and the world needs the Holy Spirit. “Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit Lord, and you shall renew the face of the earth”.

Friday 10 May 2024

7th Sunday of Easter Year B

This is a pet peeve because it feels like a “hanging” Sunday. “Useless” because most of the Catholic world has caved in to the tyranny of convenience by transferring Ascension to the 7th Sunday. In general, most of us balk at the idea of celebrating our birthday a few days in advance or later because time and space are important markers for us. To give an example of how markedly defined by time and space is that nobody thinks of setting up a romantic meal with a fiancé/fiancée in a toilet.

Be that as it may, we must make sense of the readings and the Gospel. As a Sunday between the Ascension and Pentecost, the focus remains on the Priestly Prayer of Jesus.

In the 1st Reading, fullness or integrity was a consideration for the early Church. The Apostles wanted to uphold Christ’s intention for His Church. So they gathered to elect someone to take the place of Judas. They settled on Matthias. Their choice conserved Christ’s concern that there be unity amongst His followers and in terms of apostolic ministry, there be continuity.

Integrity and continuity are central to effective discipleship as Jesus acknowledges that His followers are placed in the world and yet they should not be of the world. Such a tension requires prayers and prudence because one can isolate to the point of paralysis or one can be radically co-opted by the currents of the world to be effective.

Jesus’ prayer for us challenges our conception of what His Church should be like. Are we united or are we disunited because the strength of the Gospel of His salvation rests on an unequivocal unity amongst us. The unity in belief is a powerful attraction for others to follow.

Last Sunday, Jesus commanded His disciples to love. Today He prays that they be sanctified by the truth. Love and truth are essential when we desire unity in the faith. However, truth can be weaponised as it has been by the powerful. A good example is the recent health crisis. Now that we are somewhat past the pandemic, little by little, chinks have appeared in the media-medico complex that there have been many cover-ups of the side-effects of the vaccines. During the height of the pandemic, anyone who dared to stand up against the central assertion that the vaccine was safe would have been vilified by the powerful lobby that claimed to “hold the truth”. Dissenting voices were silence during the pandemic.

Conspiracists proliferate when there is lack of transparency but what the episode has proven is that truth without love will lead to brutality. Everyone has a voice, rightly or wrongly. Somehow a person’s voice can be distorted by power. When a person of authority speaks, generally what he or she utters is accorded the status of truth whereas a statement given by a person without power is easier to dismiss. Our public space is populated by media personalities or celebrities on all sides of the spectrum who project themselves as the purveyors of “truth” as if whatever they say is gospel-truth. The point is when truth is spoken without love it leads to oppression.

On the hand, love without truth leads to hypocrisy. Yes, Christ commanded His followers to love. In order to imitate the way that He loved, we have to differentiate as He did and it involves judging. It is not judgemental as we ought to love the sinner but we are not expected to love the sin. Otherwise, it would simply be hypocrisy to pretend nothing is wrong. This form of love is tough and hard. To properly love is to be truthful in what needs to be expressed and yet be humble in how we speak the truth. This is not the easy part.

One of the challenges to truth, honesty and transparency is our attitude. For example, we hear this humble demure or deference frequently. “Who am I to judge?”. When first hearing it, it sounds deeply respectful but it is actually a form of self-reference. Such a position renders objective truth inaccessible. It is like “I am in no position to judge since my measure does not always stand up to scrutiny”. Such a frame of reference does no justice to the act or situation itself. Meaning, is the act good? Is the situation right? Instead, such a criterion cripples objective judgement by shackling it to one’s personal morality or its lack of. One’s moral scale or the lack of a moral measure has now become the canon for truth.

Today, truth feels elusive since everyone seems to be easily offended and that everyone feels that his or her truth is the standard. Christian humility becomes possible when we adopt the attitude that recognises everyone is searching for the Truth. Wittingly or unwitting, humanity is searching for Christ. Truth in love is never going to be an easy path to travel. Those who embrace this humility will almost always face persecution.

Christ Himself knows it. This Sunday belongs to the days of waiting for the strength to embrace truth in love and humility. We need the Holy Spirit as the prayer of Jesus suggests. We will be tested personally through the loss of health or wealth. We will be tempted politically or socially through the deprivation of our rights or freedom. In every possible trial, we need God’s strength. We have been sanctified, that is, set apart by Christ’s commandments and we need His Spirit to keep us in the world without becoming the world. Come Holy Spirit, come.

Ascension Thursday Year B 2024

The Gospel today is taken from Mark’s “longer” ending. The origin of these verses, though accepted by the Church as canonical, is sometimes debated. What is interesting is that Mark alone amongst the 3 Synoptic Gospels tells us that Jesus has ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father. It should not be surprising because at the beginning of his account, Mark laid bare before us that his Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ, who is none other than the Son of God. While Mark’s ending ties in with his beginning, Matthew’s Gospel interestingly recorded that some disciples had hesitated when the rest knelt before the Son of God.

With the Great Commission at the point of His Ascension and the hesitation of the few to worship Him, we have our mission cut out for us.

Christ was unequivocal in His command to go and baptise all nations in the name of the Trinity. The readings revolve around the mystery that His departure was not the end but rather the beginning of the Church’s mission.

The word “mission” involves sending and we generally associate it as a movement that goes out. We have been sent into the world to evangelise, to preach the good news. The 2nd Reading provides a clue that this sending involves an inward movement.

St Paul, at the time of his writing to the Ephesians, was a prisoner. He exhorted the faithful to lead a life worthy of their vocation as baptised. We bear with each other charitably to preserve the unity of the Spirit. As there is only one Body, one Spirit called to the same hope, it makes a lot of sense that we come to the table each with our gifts to enrich the whole Body. This mission ad intra is important because the unity of the Body is both a mission and a gift.

Sadly, when it comes to the mission ad extra, we have been forced into the corner of mediocrity. The reason is because the mission ad extra is much more difficult. Ever since the beginning of the Church, we have been racked with internal divisions. Disagreements were necessary as they arose out of the need for doctrinal clarity. Once the Ecumenical Councils clarified the doctrines and established the dogmas, there should have been unity but it was not always the result. The unity of the Church is broken through schisms and heresies and Christians have killed each other in the name of God and in the name of “truth”. The mission ad intra is definitely a playground for the father of lies and disunity. Indeed, the outcome has been a disservice to the mission ad extra.

As a result we have to cook up theological gymnastics that justifies that God’s salvation is more extraordinary than ordinary. What this means is that the Church is not central to the work of Christ’s salvation. And if that be the case, then the mission to evangelise is not central to Christ’s work of salvation. Our lack of unity has made it easier to accept that all religions are the same. It is the lazier option.

Crippled by our disunity, all we can muster is to concentrate on doing good and for that we collaborate with people of goodwill. Is not presently, the greatest good to basically “reverse climate change”?

The question that is almost never asked is one which challenges as well as highlights a truth about temporality. Nobody ever asks the question if the prolongation of time and space is equivalent to salvation. Seated at the right hand of the Father, He will come to judge the living and the dead. It is uncomfortable or an inconvenient truth that no matter how we try to “save” the here and now, it will inevitably come to an end. The question of salvation must be asked by each person: Will I be saved?

It is for salvation that Christ came and now at the cusp of His Ascension, He send us on a two-fold mission which is most demanding. Firstly, go out into the world to preach the Gospel. Secondly, with signs to accompany the preaching, tidy up our life and our communities. Christ’s mission is easy to understand but infinitely a challenge to embrace. The mission is ongoing. The challenge continues—the difficult but necessary personal conversion and a concerted public witnessing to the world. He gave us a promise that at all times, we will never be alone. He will be with us until the end of time.

Sunday 5 May 2024

6th Sunday of Easter Year B 2024

The imagery of the Vine and the branches remains with us this Sunday. Our relationship with Jesus the Vine, from Whom we draw sustenance, ought to be fruitful. Two scriptural examples help illustrate this truth. Both the barren fig tree and vineyard remind us that charity (love) is the sensible or supernatural fruit of our relationship with Jesus Christ. It follows since God is love and His love reaches out to us through Jesus Christ. And as we inch closer to Pentecost, the very same love of God in Jesus Christ that flows in us is now poured onto the world through the Holy Spirit.

The wind of the Spirit is already blowing in the background of today’s 1st Reading. The Church’s evangelical expansion is symbolised through the conversion of Cornelius. Last week we heard of St Paul’s conversion and today St Peter himself noted that when it comes to loving humanity, God shows no favouritism. Through the Church, the Holy Spirit will assume His pivotal role in the drama of salvation.

The Gentile universe deserves God’s love which means that every nation should enjoy the salvation brought by Jesus Christ His Son. Backed by the Spirit, the foray of the Church into Gentile territories ties in truly with the notion of God as the loving Saviour. The idea that a deity saves a narrow of band of humanity does not do justice to the concept of a loving God who saves. In, with and through the Church, God’s salvific reach is universalised. In other words, a saviour whose reach is restricted cannot be the Saviour that humanity and history have been waiting for.

God’s love for humanity is not generic. It was directed firstly towards Israel and through the Jews His love reaches out to the entire world. Through His Son who died for us on the Cross, the Father revealed His love. Now, the Son who sacrificed Himself for us invites us all to love like He has. He calls us to imitate His love.

What does the imitation of Christ’s love consist of?

We may have somehow signed into a notion of charity which is best expressed by the vocabulary of self-love. We hear this all the time. “Learning to love yourself it is the greatest love of all”. So, we ought to be good to ourselves. We need to forgive ourselves. Actually, all these are not bad in themselves. In loving ourselves and treating ourselves well, we may have forgotten that the true nature of love is sacrificial. The Christ who loved us emptied Himself so that we might have life to the full. In short, love is inseparable from sacrifice.

The chorus from the Prayer attributed St Francis of Assisi or simply the Prayer supposedly of St Ignatius are clues to the kind of sacrifices we are called to. “Grant that I may never seek to understand as to understand, to be loved as to love”. Or “Teach me to serve you as you deserved. To labour and not seek for rest”. Jesus Himself said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain”. Sacrificial love is defined by St Thomas Aquinas as willing the good of the other.

To be able to reach out to the other, there has to be a corresponding union with God because it is not easy to love sacrificially. By nature, we are instinctively selfish. The self-help philosophy merely amplifies or reinforces the drive towards self-preservation. Ordinarily, nobody in the right frame of mind wants to sacrifice himself or herself. Thus, the idea of an organic unity between the Vine and the branches shows us how important our union with God is. The ability to lay down one’s life is a supernatural strength. Allowing Him to love us gives us strength to love and to reach out to others.

We need God’s love because our union with others often takes us out of ourselves. A good example is helping the poor. Which is easier? Give RM100 to feed the poor or spend time with a poor family to listen to their woes? It is more psychologically demanding to hear peoples’ tales of woes than to conveniently salve or soothe our “guilt” by donating. The point that love takes us out of ourselves is not something new or alien to us. If you are a loving parent, you will sacrifice for your children. If you have aged parents whom you value, you will also sacrifice. If you are happily married, you give up many freedoms. Even though self-preservation may be ingrained in us but what is inherently true about us is also the noble desire of going beyond ourselves. When we consider sacrifice, it is not as if God is waiting to exact His pound of flesh. Instead, this sacrificial drive to rise above ourselves is founded on the God who first sacrificed Himself for us. A person who has fallen in love knows the feeling of desiring to return love for love. Loving another is not a duty but rather an appreciation of the love that we have received from God.

Finally, the Catholic system of penance and mortification is central to this disposition to go beyond ourselves. When we think of self-sacrifice, we often imagine a moment of heroic self-immolation or destruction. Closer to the truth is that a martyr would have died a thousand deaths before arriving at the grand gesture of laying down his or her life. Only when we have learnt self-denial on a daily basis can we die to ourselves ultimately. It starts very simply, like having to endure minor discomfort and inconveniences. The seemingly boring morning offering to the Sacred Heart of Jesus captures this succinctly. “O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world…”. Nothing of what we endure is ever wasted in our offering to the Lord.

Ultimately, the call to imitate Christ’s love, to be Christ in the world, can only be founded upon one’s union with Him. This is probably a common dilemma. Those who embrace a regular sacramental life seem to struggle more. It raises the question of the Sacraments’ efficacy. What is the difference of having or not? Two points to note here. First, the more we desire the Lord, the more Satan will rage and plot against us. It is not the failure of the Sacraments which brings us to the 2nd point. It is a realisation that often it is we who have placed obstacles to the efficacy of the Sacraments. Thus, the response is not having less but rather more of the Sacraments. It is the lifeline to Christ because to love to the point of laying down our lives requires supernatural strength. St Paul reminds to “draw strength from the Lord and His mighty power and to put on the armour of God in order to stand firm against the devil”. Indeed the opposite of love is not hatred but Satan. To love is to stand against Satan armed only with the love of Christ.

Sunday 28 April 2024

5th Sunday of Easter Year B 2024

There is a natural flow from Vocation Sunday last week to this weekend’s Gospel. Jesus as the Good Shepherd blends in easily with the organic idea of the Church as the Body of Christ. This Sunday the organic theme flowers into the verdant vision of the Vine and the branches. Within the Body of Christ, the Sacrament of Holy Orders harmonises with the Gospel’s central theme of nourishment. Through the ministerial priesthood, Christ feeds His people, the Church, with His own flesh and blood.

Today, the symbol of the Vine and the branches deepens the dynamic sense of movement where we, members of the Body, the branches, draw our supernatural sustenance from the main trunk of Christ the Vine. This viticultural vignette is most vividly visible when we experience in botany how a branch begins to flourish as it draws life from the trunk it is grafted onto. In this post-Easter season, our Neophytes, those recently baptised, are now grafted into His Body where they draw life from Christ through His Church.

The 1st Reading describes that life of Christ in His Church as a fearless proclamation of the Good News. We witness that in St Paul who had just been converted at Damascus. Soon he embarked on a mission of proselytisation amongst the Gentiles. Once he had drawn new life from Christ, Saul the Slayer became Paul the Preacher. He represented the early Christians arriving at a stage where the Church must now reach out into the world and the fruits of Paul’s conversion are there for all to appreciate. He travelled near and far to proclaim Christ to the cultures and societies surrounding the Mediterranean.

Coming to us, Paul’s proclamation continues through a life of good conduct and morality. We might not be able to stand at street corners to shout the Gospel but we can definitely advertise its truth through a life animated by the love of Christ and His commandments. This bring us to the 2nd Reading.

To be connected to the Vine is to live the commandments. Whoever keeps the commandments lives in God and God lives in him. On a personal plane (level), the commandment is to believe in the name of Jesus and on a communitarian level, it is to love one another as brothers and sisters. This love is not a cosy or fuzzy get-together in which we feel like a family but as the Psalmist says, our commitment to the Lord must be expressed most especially in our love for the poor. Ever since her inception, the poor, in every sense of the word, has taken centre stage in the life of the Church. In other words, we do not only proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ but that His life flowing to us must reach out to those who are marginalised by society.

While it is not mentioned in the Gospel today, what undergirds the connexion to the Vine is a vibrant sacramental life. In order to live a life in Christ and to strengthen that connexion, we draw the greatest nourishment for our faith and our actions notably through His Sacraments of Confession and Holy Eucharist. In other words, the life of the Vine and branches is vitally animated by a rich sacramental life.

Behind this powerful symbol of the Vine and the branches is a template for the transformation of our inner spiritual life and also the enrichment of our life in the world. If you are coming here for Mass every Sunday, you begin to realise that the task in this Cathedral is to draw your attention to the truth that the key to a permanent Gospel conversion is located in deepening one’s sacramental life.

This truth is frequently forgotten especially as we navigate the world. What should ground our relationship with society should be based on this imagery of the Vine and branches. Many of us live in our heads believing that the sheer power of our programmes and our structures holds the key to human progress and freedom. We are in a hurry to shape the world according to principles of reason and enlightenment. Science is our religion and technology is our tool.

But how do we not hate people? Look at Israel and Hamas. Or now Israel and Iran. Can we enact laws to compel people not to hate each other? Have they ever helped? How do we respect people? Are they rules to enforce regard or esteem for others? And have they ever helped?

It is a deeply ironical situation. In a world that has lost its taste for mystery and the mystical, we are trying to save God’s creation while Christ is trying to save souls. We forget that the good we intend to achieve can only be done with God’s assistance. Every human project that compels goodness always ends up being tyrannical. The greatest social engineering which forced man to rise above himself ended up with enslaving him to an ideology. Communism was that failed social project. This is where the Sacraments come in.

The Sacraments are not just things or rituals we undertake. They divinise us by making us more human. Laws can only coerce that much. Beyond enforcement and punishment meted out by laws we do not rise to nobility. Fear can only do so much. Outside the fear of punishment, we will devolve into the behaviours of the jungle. Citizens of a country with strict fines for simple infraction of the laws, when travelling here, have no problem throwing rubbish outside their moving vehicles. In order to rise above ourselves, we need Christ.

He is the Vine who imparts His divinity on us so that we become more human. We need more of God and not less of Him to be ourselves. The less present He is, the more beastly we become.

A culture and a civilisation more divinised will better reflect Christ’s humanity. The Vine and the branches remind us that changing the world does not change us. Changing us changes the world. To be able to change, Christians, apart from keeping the commandments must draw their sustenance from Christ through a life of the Sacraments. That is the surest path, a time-tested witness to the power of the Sacraments to transform the world. Just ask the saints throughout the ages. They are living proofs of the power of the Sacraments for change and greater good.

Sunday 21 April 2024

4th Sunday of Easter Year B Good Shepherd Sunday

The 4th Sunday of Easter is also called Vocation Sunday. In the Gospel Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd which lends itself to the theme of vocations. In general, it is a chance to promote vocations but in particular, the spotlight falls on the idea of priesthood in the Catholic Church. Even though I am a Religious, it is an opportune moment to draw attention to the call to be a priest.

To better understand the Sacrament of Holy Orders and its relevance in the life of the Church, we need to ask two questions. Firstly, what is the Church? Secondly, what does Christ have in mind for His Church?

Is it the desire of Jesus that the Church be a gathering of like-minded do-gooders? To be fair, being good and doing good are taught by all religions and not just restricted to Christianity. Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam command their adherent the same too, do they not? Or should we flow with the trend that since all religions teach their followers to be and to do good, then it matters not which religion one embraces except that one should be and do good?

The idea that all religions are the same raises the question of what membership in the Church is for. After all every religion leads to the same end of being and doing good, membership is irrelevant. Thus it is essential to know what Christ has in mind for the Church. Membership has to be more than being and doing good. The famous chapter of the multiplication in John 6 is instructive.

In the subsequent conversation after feeding the 5000, Jesus invited the hearers to consider the supernatural food and drink He would offer. The attainment of eternal life is premised on eating His Body and drinking His Blood. In the exchange with the crowd, Jesus did not mince His words with regard to the necessity of consuming His Body and imbibing His Blood for eternal salvation. The crowd was so aghast because the proposal of Jesus tended towards cannibalism that everyone abandoned Him. Importantly, He made no attempts to stop them. Even though John’s Gospel carries no account of the Institution of the Eucharist, this episode leaves us without any doubt that Jesus was serious about eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood. If that be the case, then Jesus must make available the food and drink required for salvation.

He has kept His promise through His Church and very specifically through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Church is the ordinary instrument of salvation willed by Christ, making the priesthood the means for Him to ensure that eternal salvation can reach His Body. The Priesthood is His bloodline to the Body.

The Church is variously described of as the People of God, the Bride of Christ or the Body of Christ. The last description provides an organic sense that joins the Church to Christ. If Christ is the Head, then the Church is His Body. It is in and for this Body that the priesthood makes the greatest sense as the Sacrament of Orders is necessary for the proper functioning of the Church.

The Head looks after His Body through His priests. But there is a crisis in vocation number. This crisis challenges our understanding of the Church and the necessity of the Sacrament of Eucharist for salvation.

Do we need the Eucharist or not? We already know that eating His Body and drinking His Blood is not a figurative suggestion but a real command. We are speaking here in the context of ordinary salvation. We accept that Holy Communion is sine qua non for salvation, which means that the Lord must provide the means for the availability of the Sacrament. Thus, the lack of vocation poses a problem which highlights the problem not on God’s side but ours. If Holy Communion is Christ’s lifeline for our salvation, then God cannot have stopped calling. We have stopped responding.

The lack of response is possibly the painful reality that we do not believe Holy Communion is indispensable for the salvation of our souls. In other words, while we believe that God saves ordinarily through His Church, our practice is that God saves extraordinarily. It means that Holy Communion is not really that essential for salvation.

If we do need Holy Communion to gain eternal life, then the lack of vocation should spur the young men of the parish to give the Catholic priesthood a serious thought. To be a priest is to be another Christ so that he can give to the Catholic faithful, the Body and Blood of Christ. The priest does not need to be anything else. His only use is to confect and give the Sacrament of Sacraments only because he alone can.

We have to pray for more vocations. Get this into our heads that without the foundation of a ministerial priesthood, the whole Church will crumble. This is not clericalism at all. It is a statement of fact. Priests are sinners no doubt. Presently, our false sense of righteousness is hyper-focused on the weaknesses of the priesthood forgetting that Christ did not choose powerful men to be His apostles. He chose these weak men so that they can represent Him to the world. A priest does not have to be a great preacher, a brilliant theologian or a charismatic leader. Anybody can be those but no everyone can be a priest and only a priest can stand in the person of Christ.

The young men of the Cathedral should consider a life of service as Christ’s instrument to make sure that His Church is fed with His Body. Think about the bees. The female worker bee and the queen bee both have the same genes. The difference is the diet. A female worker larva is fed with royal jelly and it will develop into a queen bee. Likewise, eating the Body of Christ prepares us for eternal life. Who to feed the Church the Bread of Angels if not Jesus Christ Himself through His priests, the alter Christus? I leave you with two questions. 1. Where have all the young men gone to? 2. Right now, you still have the luxury of changing parishes. Do not like the priest, the politics or the liturgy, run to another parish. But how far can you run and for how long? Until you run out of priests?

Saturday 13 April 2024

3rd Sunday of Easter Year B 2024

We continue with the appearances of Jesus to His disciples. However, the post-Resurrection experiences of the disciples is reminiscence of Deborah Kerr in The King and I, singing “Getting to know you”. In each encounter with Jesus, there is a feeling as if the disciples do know Him but they are still getting to know more about Him and to know Him intimately.

Today, the Gospel is the aftermath of the encounter of the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus where they, while at table, recognised Jesus at the Breaking of Bread. In these post-Resurrection experiences, they are often startled or terrified by His appearances or just plainly dumb-struck which questions what they really know of Jesus and the Resurrection.

In each and every encounter, He had to assure them that He was not a ghost but that He has come back to life and is therefore the very fulfilment of all the hopes that they had inherited from their ancestors. All those who came before them had been looking for the Messiah and Jesus was the answer to that search.

Two questions for reflection on these encounters. Firstly, what does it take for us to recognise Him? Secondly, what happens after we have recognised Him?

Food was essential or central to the interactions of Jesus with the people. He was often described as having meals with people. While He was labelled a glutton by the Pharisees, the truth is He has always shown concern for those who lack the necessities that bring joy to communal gatherings. In John’s Gospel, at the behest of His Mother, He changed water into wine to save the marrying couple of embarrassment. And on the mountain, by multiplying the loaves and fish, He made sure that the hungry crowd did not go empty stomach.

But food and drink were never for themselves. They were provided in order to enrich relationships. The context that food is primarily relational can been seen in St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. The early Christians were gathered around the Eucharist. And as such, there was food prior to Holy Communion. The scandal arose because the wealthy ate whilst the poor went hungry. The critique was not against consuming food. The issue was not that the rich ate but that they ate while neglecting the poor.

The providence of food and drink is in the context of the Eucharist as we see in John 6. Jesus had fed the hungry but they were still looking for more to satisfy their physical hunger. More than material satisfaction, Jesus proposed a food and a drink that would fulfil all their spiritual hunger and thirst.

Today the story continues from the encounter of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. These two had RECOGNISED Him at the breaking of bread. The action where Bread is broken is the other name for Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament and the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the primary place to recognise Jesus. Even though the rite or the manner of celebrating Mass, as we know it today, is not recorded in detail in any of the Gospels, the outline of the Eucharist was already captured by Luke’s narrative of the Road to Emmaus. The second part of the Mass which the Church terms as the Liturgy of the Eucharist is enumerated by the four actions of Jesus as He sat down with these two Disciples after their walk where He took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them.

We hear this “retelling or recounting” from the Last Supper in a lyrical manner. “On the night He was betrayed, He took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying”, is a formula which directs our attention to the Offertory (took), the Eucharistic Prayer (blessed), the Fractio Panis (broke), and the distribution of Holy Communion (gave).

Interestingly, notice the attention paid to the “taking, blessing and giving”. Frequently enough, the action of “breaking” is missed out, either because the priest does it rather nonchalantly or the congregation is too engrossed with exchanging peace with everyone to miss out a key component of RECOGNISING the Lord.

They recognised Him at the BREAKING of Bread. As the Host was broken, they remarked, “Did not our hearts burn within us as He had talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?”.

This is where we join the two disciples whom, “as they recognised Him, He had vanished from their sight”. Immediately, they set off returning to Jerusalem so that they could tell the story of their encounter with Jesus on the road.

This is what should happen after we have recognised Him. The message of Easter is always about one running to another. The ladies at the tomb, upon knowing that Christ had risen, ran to tell the Apostles about His Resurrection.

The Eucharist of the Resurrection is never meant for “private” consumption. It has tremendous benefits for the soul, for the person who receives it. He is the answer to our spiritual hunger but it is never meant to stop at the personal. It has always been an interpersonal reality. When we have seen the Lord, our hearts must tell of His wonders.

This is the good news of the Resurrection. When the Jesus whom we have recognised is not made known, then it begs the question of whom we have really come to recognise. To eat Jesus is always to proclaim Him in and through our lives and if we keep quiet, the rocks will cry out. Our Cathedrals, Churches and Chapels, old and new, are rocks shouting out the Gospel of the Resurrection. Better not let these stones shame us.