Wednesday, 3 August 2022

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C 2022

We lingered with John the Baptist for two consecutive Sundays. At our first encounter, the Baptiser reminded us of the need for conversion and repentance. Last week, he stood as the beacon of joy, a joy that flowed from the recognition that humanity’s salvation was near. Today, we shift our attention to Mary, the Mother of Our Lord.

If John the Baptist represents the last of the Old Testament prophets, then Mary will have situated us within the age of the New Testament. The covenant with David will come to fruition in the mystery of a humble peasant girl in Nazareth. In the 1st Reading, David was ambitious to house God in a temple fitting for His divine majesty. But God could not be outdone. Instead, He gave David a house, a dynasty to last forever. The promise to remain forever with David has come true in the womb of Mary. Her “fiat” or “yes” to God has exalted her womb into the new Ark of the Covenant.

The focus of Mary might look like a devotional excess from one side of Catholicism. The modern discomfort with this Marian exuberance may stem from our deflated self-worth rather than from the fear of idolatry. This accusation of exaggerated affection emanates from the air of anti-heroism[1], meaning that, we want Our Lady to be like us—sad and sordid. You see this in the modern reinterpretation of the Marian motif. The most famous of whom is our songbird Madonna—who dresses up like a whore in some of her performances.

But the truth is that our Marian emphasis is never enough. Why? The person of Mary must be seen in the light of salvation. She stands as a symbol of our need for the Saviour. Here again, the other side of our Catholic sensibility might be offended. She is, after all, the Immaculate Conception—the woman born without Original Sin, the last person in need of salvation. How can she then symbolise our need for the Saviour?

I know, this is a terribly misleading statement. Precisely that it is paradoxical that in Mary, who played such a pivotal role in the life of Jesus, that the offer of salvation was given to the only person who appeared to have no need of a rescue. It is a false paradox.[2] Why? Not even she, whom William Wordsworth exalted as “our tainted nature’s solitary boast”, is exempted from the need for redemption proving to us that salvation is a serious business. We need the Saviour.

This need is acute even if we did not realise it. In those days of old, people were aware of God’s faithfulness as in they live more precariously—droughts, earthquakes, storms, and truly needed to depend on God to face the unknown. Today, we have our predictable and controllable modern amenities. Clap and voilà, we are lit. Practically everything we want is at the touch of our finger tips. Until now. For many are vaguely conscious of God’s presence in the sense that we have Him at a comfortable place where He is useful. Many turn to God only as a last resort because it is more reliable to depend on ourselves and our capabilities. For the intractable problems with the desirable solutions, if God answers, well and good. If not, we have not lost more than we already have.

This is our utilitarian blindness. We believe that our problems originate from a brokenness in the systems, be it in the economic, social or political realms. As such we can fix them. These various structures are good because they belong to our human ingenuity and intelligence. And they are all gifts from God. They help organise our lives. When we have poverty, we try our level best to solve it through our economic, political and social policies forgetting that there is “brokenness” that cannot be fixed no matter what. For example, we believe that if we recycled enough or use less resources or whatever they may be, then the earth will return to that green and lush planet that has a place for everyone. It may be true, but it is not the entire truth.

Our complex arrangements, good that they are, they are not our Saviours. The classical case of the communist project, with its planned economy was an attempt to recreate paradise on earth but it has instead resulted in untold misery. It is the same for people, who tired of unhappiness, escaped to another place to establish a more perfect system. They will soon find themselves entangled by the reality of sin—jealousy and greed.[3] These sins point out that human nature needs a Saviour. We cannot save ourselves. Only God can save us.

However, we are struggling to trust in God. We rather trust our machinations. In fact, this pandemic is somewhat a proof that we are still dependent on ourselves. Instead of also turning to God more fervently, we seemed to have settled into some sort of paralysis as we come to terms with the uncertainty of the new normal, so it seems. Placing our hope in the vaccine has lulled us into a kind of false security because unwittingly we are waiting eagerly, aided by the “saviour” of a vaccine, to return to the normalcy we know as if we had no need of conversion or better still, no necessity of salvation. Business as usual is our default expectations.

It is only a matter of days before Christmas. If to be saved is the natural and necessary setting for all mankind, Mary included, then Mary is truly our model. She accepted the will of God even though it carried with it risks and dangers, but she relied on the everlasting promise of God to David that He would be faithful. The significance of Mary’s "fiat" is the dawn of human salvation. From the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel, Mary now plays a prominent role in the salvific history of humanity. But, not only that.

We have a facility of separating that which should be an interior movement into a purely exterior event. What do I mean? Christmas becomes just an occasion, almost accidental (and not essential) to who we are. That way, it can become an excuse to celebrate but not really an invitation to each one of us to be “Christmas”. For the Father’s choice of Mary means each one of us is also highly favoured or blessed and chosen. Not necessarily to be the biological mother of Jesus but that we become the fertile spiritual soil for the Word to fall and germinate. As the antiphon declares “Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Saviour”. The Saviour is born of a Virgin. He awaits to be born in our hearts.


[1] Think "Suicide Squad". Every one of our heroes is a criminal…

[2] In view of her role as the Mother of God, she had been saved already by merits of Jesus Christ. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception explains it.

[3] Think any “perfect” groupings where soon enough there will be jealousy etc…

Sunday, 24 July 2022

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2022

From Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, this Sunday we arrived at the core of the Lord’s teaching on prayer that He gave to His disciples. The main emphasis is on persistence and Jesus gives us the assurance that God hears our prayers.

We begin with Abraham’s dogged pleas for the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Ultimately, his effort came to no avail but the point is, God did hear and He granted the repeated requests of Abraham to stay the destruction of the cities. Sadly, in the end, only Abraham’s nephew, Lot and his family were spared. The story of Abraham’s persistence in begging God’s mercy to save the cities is helpful for us in terms of our praying.

Praying has to be persistent. This is important for a “hopeless” generation. Why “hopeless”? We have a mechanical sense of praying that is best analogised by the image of a vending machine. Our praying relationship with God is organised along a mechanical formula. Just like a vending machine, as long as coins or notes are inserted into the slot, the desired product will be dispensed. It is basically “programmed” in the sense that there is no relationship but instead, what we have with God is characterised by commerce. “I pray, so you better answer”.

Persistence is not “commercialised” by which we expect a return for the investment of our prayers. The tenacity of our prayer comes from trust that God will answer our prayers in His own time. Beyond requesting, at the heart of our praying is our relationship with God. The Lord’s Prayer established that God’s will is the foundation of our relationship and as such our praying should take its inspiration from “Thy Will be done”.

Here the will of God is not and should not be conceived of as coming from a demanding God—a deity hell-bent on frustrating our human wants and needs. The Prayer taught by Jesus is premised on a loving relationship with the Father. The word “Abba” in Aramaic must have made such an impression on the early hearers that they retained its usage. It captures the entirety of God’s love for us which Jesus invites us to, that is, to call upon “Abba” because He is loving.

The context of our prayers is because we have a Father who cares for us. However, the temptation is to reduce care and concern “existentially” to a God dispensing what we ask of from Him, forgetting that the basis for our request is so that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. In stating that God’s will is to be done, there is no denigration of the prayer of asking. We witness that in Abraham. He asked and asked and almost badgered the Lord. The point is to never stop asking. However, the purpose of persistent praying is not to bend God’s will to ours. As Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane has shown us, “Father, Thy Will and not mine be done”.

These are powerful words and they challenge the space of our prayer occupied by “I, me and myself”. Not only is the “self” inflated and enlarged, but it is also surrounded by social media noise which makes discerning God’s will for us next to impossible. Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, without realising it, we are signing a blank cheque for God to cash. Again, it is not as clinical as it sounds, as if God were waiting just to impose Himself on us. Instead the Lord’s Prayer invites us to deepen the relationship with God to the point that what we ask for mirrors Jesus’ prayer, to conform to what the Father desires of us and for us. The purpose of prayer is the union of hearts between God and us.

To arrive at that place where our hearts can speak to God and at the same time, hear Him, we need solitude. Without solitude, there is no contemplation. Seclusion, silence and solitude provide space to be “alone” with the “Alone”. We enter the space of beholding our God and acknowledging our dependence on Him alone. The act of praying recognises that God is the source of our “being” and not just the source of our “well-being”. Without prayer, without our connexion to Him, the source of supernatural life in us will dry up. Last week, the example of Martha and Mary taught us one thing and it is the need for balance. We need to eat but we also need to commune with God. The exclusion of one from the other can only lead to the impoverishment of the soul.

Many of us are trapped in a kind of prayer which has basically stagnated at the level of asking from God. It is true that Jesus did say in the Gospel that we should seek, ask and knock but our prayers seemed to have remained there. We have come to expect that God must answer our prayers. The dilemma arises when hope is tied to this expectation. Whatever we hope for, the reply must correspond to what we expect and when the answer does not meet our expectations, we lose hope. Health, end to conflicts, job security etc are some major concerns we have.

Perhaps the experience of a child asking from his parents can teach us that not everything we ask for will be good for us even if we think that it is good for us. If God does not always hear our prayers, that means that sometimes we are being prepared for something else. This requires trust in Him and the virtue of faith is sorely short in supply.

To establish the Kingdom in the Lord’s Prayer, we must wean ourselves from this kind of “I, me and myself” asking. If our prayers remain at the level of asking, then praying must be “successful”. Otherwise, overwhelmed by failure, we will languish hopelessly. The Novena of Grace to St Francis Xavier has a formulation which puts into perspective how we should pray: “If what I ask is not for the glory of God and the good of my soul, then give me what is conducive to both”. This prayer gives God space to be God and it opens up space for us to hear Him speak to us. In God, failure is not always failure. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is our main model. In Him, the Cross was not a sign of failure in prayer but a symbol of victory. In our prayers, God converts us. He changes us and it is not we who convert Him. The humility of true prayer is “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

Monday, 18 July 2022

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2022

Mary’s better choice ties in with the 1st Reading where it highlights the centrality of hospitality in the Mediterranean culture. The three men allowed Abraham a great opportunity to exercise the virtue of welcoming strangers. He wasted no time launching into the organisation of a meal that profoundly honoured his guests. There is no mention of their identities but commentators are of the opinion that these three visitors represent the earliest suggestion of the Blessed Trinity. In fact, the 15th century Russian icon-painter Andrei Rublev depicted the Abraham’s hospitality with three-seated Angels who symbolised the Trinity. The point is that we never know whom we encounter and that hospitality opens up the possibility of crossing path with God in the strangers we welcome.

In the Gospel, which repeats the theme of hospitality, we have a Martha, reminiscence of Abraham, who became overwhelmed with the physical needs of caring for their esteemed Guest. And in the tension between Martha who was busy and Mary who had chosen the better part, we catch a glimpse of the true essence of hospitality.

The drama between Martha and Mary is regularly depicted as a tension between “activism” and being “contemplation”. However, such a polar distinction does not do justice to the nature of hospitality. It is built upon the notion of “embrace”. It is not a matter of embracing either total involvement or passive withdrawal. Instead, hospitality embraces the tension that exists between activism and contemplation.

In the case of Martha, she was without a doubt busy with trying to make Jesus feel at home. But Mary also represented hospitality because in her, the Word was welcome into her heart. Hence, the tension between activism and contemplation is held in such a way that we can be active without neglecting the need for retreat or recollection.

What the experience Martha has shown us is that it is easier to be distracted by utilitarian pursuit because the idea of not accomplishing anything is hard to stomach. In other words, we may be scared of the silence of solitude, guilty that our inaction amounts to failure of achievement. Like Adam and Eve hiding behind fig leaves to conceal their nothingness, we tend to pile on activities so that we can have “something” to present to God. It is almost like we are embarrassed by our nothingness and we need to prop ourselves up in order to be on par with God. There is almost a shame associated with the humility of nothingness. But emptiness opens up the possibility of fruitful reception.

In the case of Abraham, the strangers brought news of Sarah’s pregnancy and subsequently, the birth of Isaac. Real hospitality is more than just getting ready to welcome a visitor. It is also a time to receive them as they enter into one’s home and heart. Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus welcome the gift of Christ’s presence into her heart. An open heart would perhaps be the greatest welcome we can give to the Lord.

The Gospel invites us to take a step back. Ours is definitely a world of Martha. Without denying the importance of engagement, sometimes God’s gift comes to us in the solitude of our withdrawal. The quiet of the night in which we tune in to the presence of God can be the most fruitful and life-giving. Therefore, in our very frenetic world, we must not forget this space for God, the space for the supernatural, the space that allows the self to encounter and be encountered by God.

It is a timely kind of a Gospel for it reminds us not to neglect this priority. If we are engaged in material progress, we must be mindful of the spiritual needs of the person. Without feeding the soul, material gain can easily dehumanise a person. The soul is created for freedom and that makes the material base of reality a means to an end which is the freedom that God has intended for us. Material well-being is never an end in itself.

This forgetfulness of our spiritual self can be aggressive. We are fed a philosophy that material well-being is a substitute for the spiritual need of the human person. This is why we need religion. The etymology of the word itself is illuminating. Primarily, the role of religion is to align us with God. It is never restricted by rituals alone. Religion reclaims that space for God. In Martha and Mary we do not have two disparate models of discipleship. They should never be pitted one against the other because they highlight the two sides of the one coin of discipleship. Both Martha and Mary symbolise the pull between action and contemplation.

In this world where we usually opt for activity, it is very easy to fall in love with the work of God, that is, to be a Martha. The shaping of God’s vision for the world is tempting because we will always want to jump quickly into engagement with the world. The Martha in us can make us forget that Mary’s choice is essential to our sanity and sanctity. The God of our work is the goal of every activity we have and most of all, He is the end of our contemplation. When we forget that, we will settle comfortably for the work of our God which can fulfil us but ultimately will never be able to satisfy us fully. Only God Himself is our longing, fulfilment and completion.

Monday, 4 July 2022

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2022

Last Sunday’s Gospel showed a Jesus resolutely heading for Jerusalem. Along the way, He encountered would-be followers. Even though there was an urgency regarding the abundant harvest waiting for labourers, still He was uncompromising with the requirements of discipleship. Never mind demand outstripping supply, no exception was given to those unable to shoulder the obligations of discipleship. Today He expands His reach by appointing and sending out 72 others, presumably solid candidates, in pairs and ahead of Him to the places He Himself is to visit.

The Gospel passage records the 72 high-spirited disciples rejoicing as they returned. They were outstanding when it came to subjugating demons. However, their success stories are like icing on the cake, whereas the instructions given by Jesus highlight the demanding conditions to which they were sent. These counsels remain relevant to those who proclaim the Gospel.

Firstly, Jesus sent them out like sheep amongst wolves. This attitude invites a vulnerability amongst those who volunteer to serve, most especially those who have given themselves to full-time ministry. This mindset is coupled with the second instruction given. Have no security for the simple reason that disciples should trust that God’s providence will supply. Our achievement-obsessed universe does not allow for “vulnerability” seeing it not as a compelling sign of faith in Providence but a symptom of low self-esteem or a lack in self-confidence. We are constantly motivated to be go-getters. Instead of waiting for events to overtake us we must control our destiny. Otherwise, why send little toddlers to pre-schools? I am sure if there were such a thing as a pre-natal school, some progressive parents would be signing up their babies in the womb.

Mastery, domination and control are skill sets even more urgent to have if the default mode of engagement is “achievement”. If our goal is to meet some performance indices, then the mission landscape will always feel urgent. In a way, it should be, because, as Jesus stated, the harvest is rich and waiting. However our problem is a spiritual blindness that does not appreciate fully the challenges we face today.

At every turn of history, the Church has had to face challenges. It is like every age has its own beast to slay. Maybe, we should rejoice even more than the 72 others did. They were ecstatic as they defeated the demons whereas we do not even have to lift a finger, let alone raise a hand to drive out a demon.

During the time of Jesus, diseases were indications that forces inimical or hostile to God were at work in the lives of those afflicted. Healing a sick person was a definitive expression of Jesus’ authority over evil. It would appear that we are better than Jesus because we have driven these hostile forces into the margins occupied by the occult, superstition and magic. As long as an observed phenomenon cannot be repeated and tested in the laboratory, it should be relegated to the private realm and therefore should have no place in the market square of reason.

This implies that religion is immediately suspect. We cannot scientifically prove God’s existence. Moreover, religion deals with the supernatural and anything out of the ordinary spectrum of nature which cannot be proven must be banished. Therefore, Satan does not exists except in the “fantastical”. In a way, science may have proven itself to be more “powerful” than God.

However, what science cannot fully account for is our fascination with “beauty”. Beauty is alluring and attractive whereas evil is not. Our problem begins when Satan appears as the angel of light. We are quickly enamoured because we can no longer differentiate between what is good and evil appearing as good. We readily embrace evil only because we think it is beautiful and good.

In this confusion, we labour naively failing to notice how easily evil infuses itself into our worldview. We may be staring at Satan in the face and not know it because blinded by our lack of imagination, we have trivialised the reality of evil to the point that it does not exist. Or if it does exist, as mentioned, it is narrowly restricted to the non-appealing, that is, to the grotesque. Just watch all the horror movies we have. The satanic is reduced to the repulsive which is but the crudest expression of evil. When evil is ugly, the comparison with good is like the difference between black and white. We know day from night. But when evil appears “beautiful”, the discernment is harder. It is like judging or differentiating between white and off-white.

Indeed, like lambs sent amongst wolves, the beast of this age are the closed minds that are unable to identify the true face of evil hiding behind the seemingly beautiful. In this almost sinless world which does not account for evil, we have to settle, at best, with conspiracy theories, or at worst, with plain pure nutters. Anyone who dares to speak of the reality of evil is possibly mad.

The antithesis of a closed mind is not openness. For this openness might suggest that one should accept any and all positions put forth. If openness, in the shape of tolerance or acceptation, is not the opposite of a closed mind, what should it be? How do we slay the beast of closed minds?

Most importantly, openness has to be anchored. As the Disciples returned to the Lord, they returned to the harbour from which they sailed forth. We are not bobbing ships in an open ocean sailing without any sense of purpose. Our connexion is to Christ who is the Truth that anchors our mission endeavours. In fact, the noble values of equality, liberty and brotherhood link us back to who we are in relation to God because they are dependent on God’s design for us. When creating, God did not just mess around with plasticine. Instead from the earth, He fashioned us in His image and likeness.

Thus, our dignity does not come from nowhere. It is derived from God Himself. We may have made all the technological advances in the world and are not afraid of “demons” but they are real because these demonic forces are hard at work to make us forget this sacred origin of ours. Without this sacred link to God, we may not even realise that our souls are in danger.[1]

We should be mindful that the Devil works hard to thwart the establishment of God’s Kingdom. If Satan were not a part of this spiritual reality, what are you doing here? And, a lot of our rites makes no sense if there were no spiritual battles for our souls. Remember the Prayer to St Michael the Archangel. Satan is relentlessly undermining Christ’s mission to save souls. It is to the peril of our salvation that we ignore the spiritual reality.

The instructions that Jesus gave the 72 others keep us grounded because they direct our attention to who we are, Whom we should depend on and what we are fighting against. Ultimately, in the mission to establish God’s Kingdom and to save souls, these counsels keep us close to God as we make our pilgrimage to eternity.


[1] This anchor on God gives us our stability because fluidity, meaning that truth is dependent on whichever the winds that blow at this time does not lead to a more fulfilled life. If anything, it leads to despair and hopelessness. The so-called progressives elites who are fighting against racism are a good example of shifting sand of fluid truth. We are cudgelled to accept the principles of BLM (black lives matter) and are supposed to embrace critical race theory and fight against “White Privilege”. Well and good. Now that Roe versus Wade has been overturned by the SCOTUS with the power to legislate being returned to the individual States, the knives of the progressives are aiming for black justice Clarence Thomas. So much for black lives matter. He does not fit into the progressives’ profile of what a black person should be like and that is a sin.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2022

We are back into the green[1] of Ordinary Time. This Sunday reveals a turning point in the itinerary of Jesus. In the 2nd half of His public ministry, He resolutely makes His way for Jerusalem. There is a thread running through both the 1st Reading and the Gospel. However, there is more to their similarities because Jesus’ resolution seemed to be cast in concrete. In His unflinching determination, He makes no room for human frailty. In other words, if you follow Him, it will have to be a hundred percent or not at all.

It seems really forbidding but this resoluteness in Christ can be our starting point for reflection. Two inter-related concepts are at play when it comes to one’s resolution. Firstly, it is commitment and secondly, the pledge one is able to make is determined by one’s sense of freedom. For our present ears, one hundred percent sounds rather daunting because it feels rather slavishly restrictive. But it is not as oppressive as one perceives because, in the recent past, it was like that.

Take two examples. The first instance took place recently. In conjunction with the Cathedral’s Ruby Jubilee, we celebrated the anniversaries of couples, 25th, 40th, 50th and above. Couples these days rarely reach 50 years and above. Main reason could be death of a spouse because people are getting hitched at an older age.[2] However, by and large, married couples find it hard to go the entire length. No judgement on those who failed. A more relevant reason could be the primacy of personal autonomy. “What about me?”.[3]

The second case in point comes from a past when inter-continental travels were few and far between. Missionaries used to leave their countries of birth and many never returned home. The cemeteries of older parishes are graced with graves of priests and religious who, following the Lord, in manner of speaking, “took on the flesh” of those whom they serve and became as one of them. These hands who took the plough never looked back.

When there is determination, then lines will have to be drawn and boundaries will have to be marked. Coincidentally the 2nd Reading speaks about freedom. To follow Jesus whole heartedly, we need freedom and His Gospel’s demand challenges our notion of what freedom should be like.

We think that freedom is tied to personal autonomy or individual liberty but it is not. Just to be able to do what I want, when I want and how I want, is not freedom. A serial murderer can definitely exercise that kind of liberty but no one here would even dare to define that as freedom. True freedom is bound to one’s identity and this identity is not self-manufactured—like I feel womanly and therefore I am a woman. In Jesus, His resoluteness was directed to the fulfilment of His true destiny. He needed to go to Jerusalem, not to face what awaited Him, but rather to fulfil His role as the Saviour of the world. The urgency of establishing the Kingdom of God took priority over all the other freedoms that He might have enjoyed.

Likewise it has to be for us if we were to follow Him. Our entire existence should be directed to the inauguration of the Kingdom of God as we heard in the Gospel.

Today marks the closing of the World Meeting of Families. In a way, both the examples of the permanency of marriage and the magnanimity of missionaries are expressions of the two Sacraments of Service, namely Matrimony and Holy Order. Both these sacraments express the commitment and identity of our discipleship. We serve and follow Christ through the Sacrament of Matrimony which establishes the family and through the Sacrament of Holy Order which institutes the sacerdotal ministry of shepherding His people.

Now, in the service of the Church, either through the family or through priesthood, “I, me and myself” is not selfish. It may be misguided because it comes from a space of self-preservation. We balk or hesitate at the idea of giving our all and everything. Our sense of self or our definition of autonomy is close to absolute which explains why our generation is allergic to commitment. We are afraid that it might chip away at our hard-won freedom.

What is more? We are promised a vision that self-actualisation is the only way to personal fulfilment. The other day a radio DJ was commenting on the winner of this huge jackpot and one comment was striking. She said, “I would rather be rich and miserable than be poor and miserable”. Hidden within this sentiment is an idea that money is our ticket to freedom and with it, one can buy happiness. Our materialistic generation has come so far to deify the spontaneity of freedom so much so that commitment feels very much like a millstone around our neck. But commitment is a constituent necessity for being who we are. To wit, once again, think of a relationship that is moving towards marriage. The very idea that a partnership should be open in the sense that both are seeing other people is anathema to the core of our being. No marriage can withstand this kind of fluidity. A good example would be Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith both famously touting a kind of open relationship that in the end recognises that it is impossible to maintain it.

If marriage as a human institution instinctively calls for an all or nothing commitment, why can we not think this of the relationship between God and us? There is a radicality of discipleship in which God demands no less than our hearts. It is true that one cannot serve both God and mammon because the human heart is made for this singular divine commitment and true freedom comes from our covenant with God. We should get it into our heads as early as we can that freedom, as in unfettered personal liberty, cannot guarantee our happiness. Sadly, we can be blindly committed to ourselves, thus failing to recognise that the freest self is discovered in focusing on the Lord. Look at all our saints. They only have eyes for God and if we give Him our hearts, we will find ourselves. The odyssey to discover our deepest and truest self, as so many are led to believe, is supposed to be the crown of human quest. It is a futile enterprise because it does not gain us happiness. Only the resolute searching for God does.


[1] We “turned” green on the Tuesday after Pentecost. But Sunday after Pentecost was Trinity Sunday (white) and the Sunday after that was Corpus Christi (white). Now the Sunday properly turns green.

[2] One marries at the age of 38 and a silver jubilee (at age 63) would be a bonus. A golden anniversary would have been an achievement.

[3] There is a growing phenomenon in more affluent societies that when the children fly the coop, couples get on with their individual lives. It is like the duties of child bearing and rearing are over and now the couples should be free to pursue their individual interests.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Year C, 2022

The Solemnity of Corpus Christi, that is, the Body and Blood of Christ, reminds us that even though the Incarnate Word, has ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, He is actively present in His Church now and until the end of time. As part of this event, there is usually a procession which supposedly leads the faithful through the streets of the city. In our case, it is a short route around the housing estate.

Why the parade? It makes no sense to speak of the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian life if we were reduce it to merely an expression of our personal faith. To grasp why everything flows from the Eucharist and how every action is directed to it, we should take a closer look at the concept of “Transubstantiation”.

Part of our challenge is Catholics have scant understanding of what it means.[1] Inadequate knowledge can have negative consequences and the worst would be the reduction of the Blessed Sacrament to merely a symbol. As a practitioner of this “liturgical craft” or a person plying the “religious trade”, and without judging, I can say that many Catholics treat the Eucharist like an exalted symbol. The problem is, no matter how esteemed or dignified, it remains a symbol, nonetheless.

So, if it is not a symbol, what is it then?

Catholic theology affirms that Christ is truly, really and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament. What this means is that the Real Presence of Jesus is distinct from the other ways in which He is said to be present. It is true that He is present everywhere but the Real Presence is where we can say with conviction that what we receive on the tongue or what is placed on our palm is “God Himself” and not a symbol of Him.

Yes, the Consecrated Host may be a tiny piece but it contains not a part of Christ. Each fragment is entirely His Body and His Blood, His Soul and His Divinity. No less. At the Incarnation, He became present to us in time and space, for 33 years or thereabout. But after His Resurrection, His Presence could no longer be constrained by time and space.

How is that possible? Through the process of “Transubstantiation” and supported by “Apostolic Succession”. Without Apostolic Succession, there cannot be transubstantiation.

According to the Council of Trent, as quoted in the CCC, “by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change, the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.(CCC 1376)

It is still a loaded concept. What is it?

To understand it we need two categories which are related to each other and they are substance and accident. These two philosophical categories are seldom used except that accident for us means something else. One cannot separate substance from accident because they are metaphysical (beyond the senses) categories rather than physical. There is no such thing as “pure substance” which one can identify. Substance answers the question “What” because it addresses the “whatness” of an entity. Examples are man, woman, cat, table.

We only know what a substance is by virtue of its accidents. This means accidents answers the question “How” because it addresses the “howness” of an entity. How do the descriptions make a thing what it is? In English grammar, accidents are analogous to “adjectives” because an adjective qualifies or demarcates a “noun” just like accidents define a substance.

Whenever change takes place, it is the “substance” that remains. This means that substance acts as the principle of unity for the various accidental[2] changes that it undergoes. For example, the fluid that you drink to quench your thirst. In terms of mechanics, the cup of thirst-quenching fluid undergoes changes by freezing, by liquifying, by boiling. The content of the cup can be frozen into ice or liquified into a solvent, and finally through boiling vapourised into steam. It is the same content in the cup that undergoes all these accidental changes.

Another way to conceive the relationship between substance and accident is to look at your school yearbooks from Std 1 to Form 6. Through the series of class photos, you are able to trace how a “subject” underwent changes through the years. Whatever the changes are, it is always the same person who undergoes the changes. From a short, tiny boy, he has sprung into a well-built man, from a scrawny little girl, she has grown into a tall and slim model.

Almost every case of change conceivable is accidental. In the case of the Eucharist, what we have is a substantial change. How? If a substance is the unifying factor for accidental changes to take place, then in transubstantiation, the unifying factors for change are the accidents of bread and wine. These accidents must remain unchanged, in order that, when a priest consecrates both the bread and the wine in the chalice, the substances of the bread and wine are completely changed, or rather transubstantiated into the very Body and Blood, the Soul and Divinity of Christ. As the accidents remained unchanged, it feels like bread and it tastes exactly like wine before consecration. In other words, the “breadness” of the bread or the “wineness” of the wine are changed completely into the same substance that 2000 years ago walked upon the earth.

This explains our carrying the Consecrated Host in procession. We are not interested in carrying a “symbol” through the streets. Symbols may be powerful but they cannot save us. Only God can. If anything, Satan would like and is working very hard to lead us in thinking that the “host” we receive is no more than just a “symbol”. The point is, no matter how meaningful, no matter how magnificent, it cannot be a symbol as Flanner O’Connor, the eminent Catholic novelist, wrote in 1955, “Well, if it is a symbol, to hell with it”. We are not worshipping a symbol.

Transubstantiation explains the Church strict teachings with regard to the reception of the Eucharist. St Thomas Aquinas in the “Lauda, Sion” or “Sing forth, O Zion”, which was the sequence we sang or recited, “Behold the bread of angels (Panis angelicus) sent. For pilgrims in their banishment. The Bread for God’s true children meant that may not unto dogs be given”. The dogs are symbolic of those who do not know and therefore cannot gain from receiving Holy Communion.

If it were only a symbol, then there should be no drama involved when every Tom, Dick and Harry receives Holy Communion. But it is not. If we were to feed a dog Holy Communion, what is the dog eating? The Body of Christ, for objectively that is “Who”, not “what”, it is. The difference between a dog and a baptised Catholic consuming Holy Communion is that the dog will NEVER gain anything good from eating the consecrated Host but we will benefit or not, depending on whether or not we place obstacles (our sins) to its effects.

This knowledge that we are eating and drinking no less than the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ is the reason for St Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 11, “And so anyone who eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be behaving unworthily towards the Body and Blood of the Lord”. It may sound offensive but it highlights “Whom” we are truly and objectively receiving, Jesus Himself. Now you understand why we cover the spot where you drop your Host so that we can purify it. If you find it abhorrent to even think about subjecting the corpse or remains of your beloved to people stomping on it, how much more must we be reverential when dealing with the Body of Christ.

If we think negatively, St Paul’s teaching sounds condemnatory but if we regard it positively, he is inviting us to an inner transformation. Transubstantiation changes the substances of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ whereas transformation does not turn us into God but rather that those who meet us will encounter Jesus Christ—through our words and actions. This is what we must bear in mind and heart as we process with the Blessed Sacrament or when we consume it. Whether or not there is a procession, transubstantiation goes hand in hand with our transformation. The more we eat of the Body of Christ, the more we can resemble Christ in every thing that we say and do. We are not God but we can be like Him and for that, we need the only “vehicle” capable for this divinisation: the Bread of Life—the Eucharist.


[1] It is a concept alien to the modern mindset. Our world view is organised according to “I, me or myself” as the centre of the universe. A suggested alternative to transubstantiation is “transignification”. The Holy Communion signifies a reality for me. The question then becomes what happens to that “reality” when it no longer means anything to me. Does it cease to be “real”?

[2] An accident is defined as the unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, resulting in damage or injury. Translated, it is “kemalangan” and the closest it resembles “unintentionality” is when we describe birth as an accident. This kind of accident is not a failure in contraceptive practice but rather it details how one is born either as poor or rich, man or a woman. A rich person could have been born poor and therefore the being rich is really an accident of birth.

Sunday, 12 June 2022

Trinity Sunday Year C 2022

With the Easter and Pentecost hubbub all settled, the Church brings out a few topical but important matters for our consideration. They may sound marginal or peripheral but they are not. Instead they are central to Christian life. The first of the topics focuses on the Blessed Trinity. This is followed by Corpus Christi. After that, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

With regard to the Trinity, it is a homily priests struggle to preach. Reasons include the lack of understanding and a loss of interest in the mental sophistry of trying to reconcile three in one. Or people simply do not care about it. For all intents and purposes, the Trinity makes no difference in their lives.

Slowly we veer towards a vocabulary centred on the Trinity relevant to us. The false divide between the immanent Trinity, that is, God in Himself apart from the work of salvation, and the economic Trinity, that is, God in relation to the history of salvation, may have contributed to a Trinitarian illiteracy.

After all, we make the sign of the Cross without second thoughts. Sometimes we do not even voice the formula “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. Unthinkingly, we just trace the cross over our head and chest. This gesture is also used for comedic effect in entertainment especially when actors find themselves in a “Hail Mary” desperation.

Catholics are vaguely familiar with the Trinity in the sense that it is there. While the liturgy is steeped in Trinitarian references, yet it remains a conceptual challenge. We accept a Trinitarian God but many cannot give satisfactory explanation for this belief. One major monotheistic religion still cannot wrap its head around the idea of a God who is 3 Persons in 1. For us, at best, we take refuge in the usual reply that it is a mystery which we just accept and move on.

Christianity took a few centuries to clarify how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are not three Gods. We may not face the same problem today because the Church has arrived at a better knowledge of the Trinity. However, if we are not careful, meaning, if we do not have a working grasp of who God is, we might end up worshipping three gods. In other words we confess a Trinitarian God but in actual fact, we have deviated towards a form of tritheism.

The Trinity may be a mystery but God chose through Jesus Christ to reveal His inner life to us. For example, “the Father and I are one. And I will ask the Father, and He will send you another advocate who will be with you till the end of time”. This profound self-revelation of God is central to how we ought to live.

According to the Catechism: “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the ‘hierarchy of the truths of faith’”. (CCC 234).

If it is that essential, we should know who God is in Himself. The fact that the Trinity is a mystery should actually make us want to know more about it. It is natural for the more a reality is shrouded in mystery, the more we want to know it. Just like we are interested into know the private lives of celebrities.

The confession that we believe in one God is true simply because He is one divine nature. Pay attention to the Creed later. “God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father”. It describes the one divine nature of God. Yet He is distinctly three in persons, meaning that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God is also true. These two questions “Who are you?” and “What are you?” allow us to grapple with the mystery of why God is One but Three in Persons. To God, the question “Who are you?” will draw three distinct replies. The Father will response “I am the Father”. Likewise the Son and the Spirit. These are not one person with three answers but three Persons, each giving a distinct response. Then the question “What are you?” will draw the same answer from each Person of the Trinity. The Father will reply “I am God”. Likewise the Son and the Spirit. The distinction that the Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit provides insight that these three persons are relational in nature. The best description for the Three Persons in One is love.

St John equates God with love. He is love and love’s power is shown through relationship. In a manner of speaking, love is Trinitarian in nature because the one who loves is the Father. The one who is loved is the Son and the love between them is the Holy Spirit. Love is verbally an act meaning that it does not exist in an abstract. No one just loves “directionless” or aimlessly. Instead, when a person loves, he or she loves someone and there is someone who is loved and between them there exists a love that binds them together.

The more we know that God is love, the more we would want to invest in relationships. True relationship cannot be reduced to monetary value but instead, it is marked by love and if the nature of God is love in relation, then the knowledge of Him should also inspire us to follow Him.

The reality is that Christians are not as loving as they should be. We are poor lovers in the sense that we do not know how to love like how God loves. To grasp that love, we can start with defining what the opposite of love is. The opposite of love is not hatred. Rather, it is selfishness. Those in a selfish marriage knows what this feels like. However, in God, there is no selfishness. The Father loves the Son completely. The Son loves the Father selflessly. The love between the Father and the Son is infinite. Jesus showed His love for the Father to the extent that He poured out His life in order to save each one of us. This is the love that Christians are invited to. Without being Pelagian, meaning that all this is down to our effort, perhaps our failure to live and love like Jesus is because we have yet to fathom and feel the love within the Trinity between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The knowledge of the inner life of the Trinity is not vacuous but instead it gives us the inspiration to live our Christianity to the fullest. Love which is truly life-giving is sacrificial for it never stops at the self but like Christ, life is most magnificent when it is poured out in love. The Trinity is our template for the love which Christ has come to show us.