Friday, 30 May 2008

A Series of Homilies on Ecclesia De Eucharistia

Contents include homilies (updated and with latest footnotes) from the:

4th Sunday of Easter Year A

5th Sunday of Easter Year A

6th Sunday of Easter Year A

7th Sunday of Easter Year A

Solemnity of Pentecost Year A

Solemnity of the Blessed Sacrament Year A

Note: Booklet is designed to be printed on both sides of a paper and to be bound with staples

Friday, 23 May 2008

Corpus Christi Year A

Years ago when convenience was not only the rule of life, Corpus Christi was celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. But, for the sake of convenience, it has been transferred in some places (ours, for instance) to Sunday after the Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity. What is so special about Corpus Christi? Every Sunday is technically “Corpus Christi” since we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ (By the way, the correct title of the Solemnity is Corpus et Sanguis Christi). The history of this Solemnity can be traced to the devotion of a 13th century nun in Belgium. By the 14th century it became universally observed in the West, that is, within the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. Even though the history of the Solemnity seems to be of a late development, the theology is not. Consider what the Church Fathers have to say: Ignatius referred to the Eucharist as the “medicine of immortality” (Ephesians 20:2). “Thousands and thousands could be sanctified even through the crumbs from the Eucharistic host”, says St Ephrem the Syrian (Homilies 4.4) and St Thomas considered the Eucharist to be the “greatest of all Sacraments”. Nearer to our time, the theology remains consistent. The Catechism tells us that “the other six sacraments, all the works and ministries of the Church are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it”. The whole spiritual good of the Church, name Christ himself, is contained in the blessed Eucharist (CCC 1324).

Thus, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi reminds us that the invaluable gift of Christ to the Church is not a gift amongst gifts but rather is the gift of Himself. This gift which we celebrate brings us to the task or duty of proclaiming Him as Saviour of the world. Yes, in today’s climate of inter-religious or cultural sensitivity, it does seem arrogant or patronising to speak of Christ as Saviour of the world. But the fact is, whether we like it or not, there is a close bond which we cannot ignore between celebrating the Eucharist and the proclamation of Christ as Saviour of the world.

According to John Paul II, this bond between Eucharist and Proclamation is implied by the actions of Christ in on Calvary. Why? It is because the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary is not an event of the past which we commemorate [1] but an event which is re-presented to us each time we celebrate Mass. This means that Christ’s Salvation achieved on Calvary must be re-proclaimed to the entire world until He comes again. In that sense, each time the Eucharist is celebrated, the Salvation of Christ is also proclaimed. Thus the Eucharist makes of every Christian a missionary and the Eucharist in solemn procession becomes our public annunciation, public proclamation and public witness that Christ’s sacrifice saves the world.

Now a challenge remains. That Christ is Saviour is personally acceptable. [2] But to publicly proclaim Him is another matter altogether. We live in this “your view is true for you and my view is true for me” world. Within this world, one can have this nagging fear, “What if I or we were wrong”? Ultimately, it is a question of personal and corporate faith which can breach this self-imposed wall of relativism. Who is this Christ and how does his salvation affect me personally and us corporately? Turned the other way around, how do I and we live in such a way that the salvation of Christ is real not only to me but also to the world out there?

At the level of personal faith, in today’s world of uncertainty, the mission to proclaim takes on a rather “personal” note. Here, in terms of personal faith, the message that Christ is Saviour is not really the problem because the problem often lies with the messengers. Somewhere along the road, we, the messengers have not made the connexion between faith in Christ and the way we ought to live our lives. And, mind you, sin is not really the issue here. Rather it is inconsistency which renders the Person of Christ less credible. The theatre of war for Christianity is basically to be fought in the human heart. Our missionary effort must begin with the personal conversion. Many of us are intellectually converted but our hearts remain unconvinced. Or at least, we know a lot about Christ’s message without ever living fully the message.

According to Socrates, a life un-examined is not worth living. Sometimes we do not seem to reflect enough on the implication of faith in Christ. For example: in the context of the local Church’s concern for the increasing number of migrant Catholics, many of us here have maids at home. The way they are treated, you would think that God created a special category of people whose life’s mission is to work 18 hours a day and be screamed at because they are more stupid than we are. How does being made in the image and likeness of God come in here? The list could go on.

At the level of corporate faith, does the Church dare to teach unambiguously? Or do we look at Society at large and then tailor our teachings according to the dictates of society? The recently passed legislation in the UK with regard to human-animal embryo may be an example. Are we the only measure of life or are there laws about us which do not change? A corporate failure to teach Christ clearly has implications for our personal conversion. A Church confused confuses the faithful.

The discrepancies between faith in Christ and the failure to live our faith that we find in our lives often arise from a lack of personal and corporate knowledge of Christ in Word and Sacrament. Our failures or sins often keep us away, feeling as we do, our unworthiness but the truth is our failure should fuel our desire to know him intimately, love him more dearly and to follow him more closely. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is an invitation to walk with the Lord and to accompany Him in the Eucharist as it is the Sacrament of the God who does not leave us to journey alone, but puts Himself at our side and shows us the way. Remember Emmaus when Christ came to walk with the two despondent disciples? Today, let us kneel in adoration of the Lord who first bowed down towards us to save us and give us life. Adoring the Body of Christ means believing that there, in that piece of bread, Christ is truly present. Acknowledging Him is our salvation because He is the only one who can give us strength for the journey.

[1] The celebration of the Last Supper in the tradition of some Protestant brothers and sisters is basically a memorial service of a past event.
[2] Catholic theology has always distinguished between the “objective redemption” of all men by Christ, and the “subjective redemption” whereby the grace merited by Christ on the Cross actually proves fruitful only in the case of those who cooperate with His grace and achieve salvation.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity Year A

Last week, I raised a point that the Church fears no “extravagance” with regard to the celebration of the Eucharist. However, the word itself is problematic. It suggests of “wastage” which is nothing but scandalous especially in the midst of hunger. However, extravagance is definitely relevant to Judas’ concern for the poor. A calculative mentality with regard to God will lead to a calculative mentality with humanity. Loving God with a measure beyond this world allows or opens our heart to embrace the poor with the same generous measure. Furthermore, the idea of “extravagance” is not alien to Pentecost. We are used to thinking of Pentecost as the descent of the Holy Spirit. But the descent of the Holy Spirit actually marks an ascent into the life of the Trinity as it drew the Apostles and consequently the Church into the life and vision of God.

This Sunday, our attention is directed to Mary. JPII believes that when we ponder the mystery of the Eucharist, we are led to take a closer look at Mary. But, according to our Liturgical Calendar, this Sunday is also Trinity Sunday. Hence, how are we to speak of Mary in the context of the Solemnity of Blessed Trinity?

The answer is found in Mary’s “Fiat”, Mary’s “Yes”. When Mary said “Yes” at the Annunciation, her “Yes” at once links her to the Eucharist and the Trinity. How is that so?

Firstly, with regard to the Eucharist, the Gospel may be silent on the subject of Mary’s presence at the Last Supper. However, as she was present with the Apostles in prayer, as they waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit, we can be certain that she would also be present at the celebration of the Eucharist of the first generation of Christians (Acts 2:42). But surprisingly, Mary is linked to the Eucharist not because she was present in those celebrations. Instead, Mary is linked to the Eucharist because her interior disposition allowed her to abandon herself to the mystery of the Eucharist. As a mystery, the Eucharist calls for faith and Mary, in giving herself over totally to God at the Annunciation, made an act of faith. That act of faith earned her the title “Woman of the Eucharist” because she was already living the spirit of the Eucharist even before its Institution at the Last Supper.28 As Woman of the Eucharist, Mary is never far from the actions of Christ. Mary’s “do whatever He tells you” at Cana becomes Christ’s “Do this in memory of me” at the Last Supper. She who leads us to the Son will also lead us to the Blessed Sacrament, the true Body and Blood of her Son.

Secondly, you can also discern that Mary’s Fiat at the Annunciation is at the same time, a “yes” of total abandonment to the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. In saying yes, she believed that Christ whom she conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit was the Son of God the Father. Consequently, there is a profound link between the Fiat of Mary at the Annunciation and the Amen of each Catholic who receives Holy Communion. Mary’s “Yes” brought her into the life of the Trinity. Our “Amen” also draws us into the life of the Trinity.

In trying to live the mystery of the Eucharist, Mary is our Mother as well as our Model. Christ on the Cross at Calvary allowed the future and the past to be brought into the present. Therefore, whatever Christ did would, through the Eucharist, become present to us. He gave John to Mary and so through the Eucharist, we gain a Mother. He gave Mary to John and so in the Eucharist, Mary becomes our model.29 In that way, you can say that Mary always accompanies us in the “Amen” we make at Holy Communion. Mary is ever present in our commitment to be conformed into the image of Christ.

Finally, JPII asks us to look at the Magnificat as it mirrors the praise and thanksgiving of the Eucharist. With Mary, we praise God in the Eucharist through Christ our Saviour, even as we hope for and anticipate “the new heavens” and “the new earth” at the 2nd Coming. But, our desire for a better world is not to be found in programmes. Instead, our vision of a better world begins with the Person of Christ. We are made perfect in knowing, loving and imitating Christ. As Mary leads us to Christ, she will also lead us to find Him in the Eucharist. JPII says: “In the Eucharist, we have Jesus, we have his redemptive sacrifice, we have his resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father”—the Blessed Trinity.

Our eyes are tuned today to Mary our Mother and Model as we endeavour to embrace fully the mystery of the Eucharist and enter the life of the Trinity whom we love and celebrate. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Pentecost Year A

Last Sunday, my homily brought out the link between the Eucharist and “communion”. The Eucharist expresses and deepens our communion with the Church. This communion with the Church is both invisible and visible. It is invisible because it expresses a unity with the Blessed Trinity and presupposes a life of grace. Every Catholic who wants to receive communion must ensure that he or she receives it in a worthy manner. Thus, there is a link between communion and the sacrament of confession. Even though this relationship between communion and conversion is a matter of one’s conscience, a matter between the person and God, still, the Church has the duty to see that those who manifestly refuse to repent should not be given communion.

The reality that there are less than perfect situations, for example, “excommunication”, actually highlights the visible aspect of communion with the Church which is expressed through the 3 Cs: Creed, Code and Cult. Visible communion with the Church means that one accepts Catholic doctrines, is subject to the Church’s governance and receives the Church’s sacraments. The phrase that best describes this visible communion with the Church is none other than “practising Catholic”.

As a Sacrament of Ecclesial communion, the Eucharist has implications for our ecumenical activities. Since the unity of the Catholic Church with the other ecclesial communities is far from perfect, the Catholic Church is cautious in the matter of intercommunion. Why? Even though we desire visible unity, to short-cut the long and winding road to unity is to pretend that we are one when we are not. Our commitment to the truth cannot allow this kind of falsehood. John Paul II concludes by saying that our observance of the norms governing the reception of Holy Communion is proof and guarantee of our love for (1) Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, (2) for our Protestant brothers and sisters who have a right to our witness to the truth and (3) it shows our love for the cause of unity.

This week, our attention is directed by JPII to the dignity that must accompany our celebration of the Eucharist. With regard to “how much”, we are haunted by an account recorded in the Gospels. As Mary, the sister of Lazarus anointed Christ’s head, Judas asked a question that has echoed throughout the centuries. The enduring question deals with what is ostentatious in the midst of hunger. To be extravagant is a scandal when people are hungry. The usual argument is that God is not bothered by ostentatious showings.

The idea that money is better used for the poor is noble. But, underlying this noble idea is perhaps a mode of thinking which is deceptively calculative and thus, it has far-reaching consequences. An example of calculative thinking is “Euthanasia” (good death). How so? It claims to give a dying person a sense of control over suffering and pain. No one should suffer unnecessarily. But, noble as that may sound, in reality, Euthanasia is a consideration of convenience. [1] We measure the world according to the scale of convenience. [2] But, God is of another world. Pentecost is a reminder of the other realm that we are made for. As much as the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, the Apostles and thus the Church are drawn up into God. It is only when I am prepared to love God with a measure beyond this world, then I would also be prepared to love you with the same measure. The Sacrifice of Christ must be seen in this light. The idea is not how much money we can save for the poor but rather how much are we ready to do for God. [3] In this respect, JPII reminds us that the honour given to Christ in the Eucharist is tied closely to the mystery of His Person. We are not dealing with just an ordinary man. The way the Last Supper accounts were presented in the Gospels shows how even at an early period, care was given to the celebration of the Eucharist. [4] That’s why JPII declares that the Church fears no extravagance because the expression of her extravagance is directed to God. [5]

We could never do enough for God. Jesus may have been born in a manger. But, His poverty is a revelation of His humility whereas the Wise Men who visited Jesus did not come with poor things. Instead, they came with gold, frankincense and myrrh. What they gave Jesus showed their humility—a humility which says that no matter what we do, we can never outdo the majestic God humbling Himself to become one of us.

Because of the majesty of Christ’s gesture, the Church does not make light or trivialise the Eucharist of her Lord and Master. In fact, if we follow the definition “sacrament”, outward sign of inward grace, then the liturgy—the outward expressions must be adorned and elevated by the use of beautiful things. Icons embody the abiding presence of holiness. Statues are visible reminders of our communion with the saints who are models for our living. Stained glasses bring to life the Gospel and they catechise in pictures. Gregorian chants transport us into a realm beyond the ordinary. [6] The Gothic cathedrals were imposing structures simply because their spires piercing into the sky actually accompany our soaring aspirations for God.

Here we begin to realise that not everything is suitable for the worship of God.[7] It calls for discernment. The word “cacophony” may help us understand what it means to be discerning. Cacophony means harsh discordant mixture of sounds but in Greek, it’s even more graphic because it is derived from “kakka”... meaning faeces or crap. So cacophony means “shitty” sound. [Sorry]. Not every sound is good for our Liturgy. [8]

Thus, JPII proposes a very important ecclesiological principle for discernment. And it is this: the local Church does not exist in isolation from the Universal Church. For example, we belong to the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and all things being equal, Gregorian chants as being proper to the Roman Liturgy, must hold a pride of place in our Liturgy. The universal character of the Church must be taken into consideration in our process of inculturation or adaptation. In dealing with adaptation, “formality” is sometimes viewed as stifling creativity. In actual fact, formality does not stifle creativity. It prevents impulsiveness and it protects the lay people from the tyrannical whims and fancies of a priest.

In conclusion, nothing that we do can ever outdo what God has done for us. This is the principle for which we try to give God our very best and this is important if we want to address Judas’ concern for the poor. [9] I was at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Assembly yesterday. Our topic was the challenge of ministering to our migrant brothers and sisters. At the end of the meeting the suggestions came in fast and thick: we should organise this, we should produce this or that, etc. in order to educate and encourage our people to be involved in social justice issues. I thought to myself, our parish has so many programmes and yet why is our response at best lukewarm? It dawned on me that the measure of my love for God will be the measure of my love for the world. Not the other way around. How so? One of the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion was overheard saying, “How come you pay your maids so well? They don’t deserve such salary. They will climb over your head”. There is a saying that “familiarity breeds contempt”. In the case of our Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, it is not familiarity but the statement betrays a lack of familiarity. [10] How could anyone who gives Jesus in Holy Communion think this way? Obviously she does not know Jesus enough. Appropriately, JPII used the word “extravagance” for our expressions towards the Eucharist because it stands as an antidote to Judas’ calculative thinking or mentality. To love Jesus is to love the world. To give Jesus the best is to give the world our best. The saints already knew this... May we imitate them in giving their best to Jesus in order to love the world.
[1] Sometimes, the “suffering” of a patient is acute because it is a reflexion of society’s lack of tolerance for suffering. Think about it. How come people from Third World countries seem to be able to tolerate pain? They are stoical about pain whereas, the more affluent we are, the more intolerant of pain we become and this intolerance may be transmitted as an expectation on those who are suffering... “We actually don’t want you to be around to remind us of pain. So we’ll help you die faster”. Likewise, why is it that “older” people of our generation don’t want to be a nuisance to their children? Is it because we, the “able-bodied” younger generation, have subtly sent a signal that they are a nuisance—a cramp to our lifestyle?
[2] This scale of convenience is also discernible in the relationship between man and woman in marriage.
[3] In fact, the liturgy tells us that there is “Someone” who is worth dying for. Without this “Someone”, I will love you with a measure of this world; a measure “choked” by convenience. But, if love for God is measured other-worldly, then our liturgy must reflect that. Thus, in the context of Judas’ concern for the world, the point is, if you want to save the world or feed the poor, make sure the liturgy remains dignified, sacred and solemn because true worship of God is the only thing that can save the world.
[4] Jesus asked his disciples to go into town to prepare the place for their celebration of the Last Supper.
[5] A way to understand the measure of our extravagance is to look at our sanction or deterrent for a crime. (An interesting aside: for the Church, sanction is not punitive but rather rehabilitative). For example, in the case of rape, the “extent” that we are prepared to impose sanction is the extent we are ready to defend a value. In the case of rape, it is the dignity of the victim. Today, we are harsh when it comes to crime against children because the value of a child’s dignity cannot be measured. (The contradiction that we experience though, is abortion. For many countries, abortion is just a statistic. But, in more affluent countries, the medical fraternity would go to length in order to save a single person. These two approaches to life do not commensurate!). The point is, if we believe that God is the Almighty, then, we must be solemn and noble in our worship. But, the sad truth is, a loss of solemnity is indicative of the loss of faith in the Real Presence, in the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and also in the spiritual authority of the priestly office. If we truly believe in Jesus’ Real Presence... our attitude would be totally different.
[6] It is true that there is something about music which can be described as “classical” and therefore enduring. For example, according to music enthusiasts, the late 80s and the early 90s could be written off from the era of modern music. It seemed that nothing of value came from that period of “Muzart and synthesised techno-music”.
[7] In our world of political correctness, we are sometimes mistaken by the consideration that just because something is available, then it can be used.
[8] It’s like saying “I love you” but slapping you to proof that I love you. It’s not logical because clearly, some actions are not actions of love but rather actions devoid of love. This suggests the need for discernment and it is important because it touches the whole process of inculturation.
[9] Thinking of the poor may be noble but it could also be a gesture to God that we think nothing of Him.
[10] I wager that Judas asked the question simply not because he cared that much for the poor but because he didn’t know Jesus enough.

Monday, 5 May 2008

7th Sunday of Easter Year A

To recap and provide some form of continuity, last week’s homily was centred on the apostolicity of the Eucharist (or the apostolic character). There is a profound link between the Church and the Eucharist that what is described of the Church can also be described of the Eucharist. For example, like the Church, the Eucharist is apostolic because it is founded on the Apostles. Secondly, the Eucharist is apostolic because what the Church teaches on the Eucharist is always based on apostolic faith. Finally, the Eucharist is apostolic because it requires a valid priesthood for its celebration. A valid priesthood is dependent on apostolic succession.

Apostolic succession, a feature of apostolicity, is commonly understood as a tracing back to the times of the Apostles. It’s almost like tracing back one’s ancestry. Who ordained our Bishop and who ordained the Bishop who ordained our Bishop, and so forth? But, it is more dynamic than looking backward. It is dynamic and forward looking because we deal not with ordinary mundane things. We deal with “Holy Things” and we need apostolic succession to guarantee that an objective action can produce objective result. We want to know that the bread and wine becomes truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Apostolic succession is dynamic because it guarantees that every Catholic present here who receives Holy Communion receives truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Now, perhaps you understand why the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) does not allow the priest to simply adlib the Eucharistic Prayer.

Today, we cover the link between the "Eucharist and Ecclesial Communion", [that is, between the Eucharist and “churchy” communion, for want of a better phrase]. It ties in with our Gospel since it is set within the “High Priestly” prayer of Jesus where Jesus prayed for unity amongst His followers. The Church, as such, exists to foster [to nurture] communion or relationship with the Triune God and with one another. For that purpose, she possesses both the Word and the Sacraments, in particular the supreme sacrament of communion or unity, the Eucharist.

If the Eucharist aims at perfecting communion, this means that it cannot be the starting-point for communion. Basically, we do not celebrate the Eucharist in order to create community. Instead, the Eucharist functions to consolidate and perfect our existing union. In other words, the Eucharist is both an expression as well as an intensifier of communion with the Church.

Communion with the Church is both invisible and visible. Since both these dimensions are necessary for celebrating the Eucharist, let me begin by speaking first of the invisible dimension of our communion.

The invisible dimension expresses the unity which in Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit, unites us to the Father and to one another. This invisible dimension of our communion with God presupposes a life of grace expressed through the practice of the virtues of faith, hope and charity. Thus, every Christian who wants to receive Communion must ensure that he or she receives the Eucharist in a worthy manner. There is a strong relationship between Communion and conversion so much so that a person burdened by serious sin needs to confess before going for Communion. Otherwise, he or she would be profaning what he or she receives [1]. This relationship between Communion and conversion is a matter of one’s conscience, a matter between the person and God. Yet, the Church also has the duty to see that those who manifestly refuse to repent should not be given Communion. The fact that there are some Catholics who are not allowed to receive Communion is a particularly sensitive issue especially when it comes to those who live in “objectively immoral” situations, such as invalid marriages. These can arise when a Catholic marries outside the Church without a dispensation or remarries after divorce without an annulment. [2]

Such a reality that is less than perfect actually reveals the necessity that communion with the Church be visibly expressed. And this communion is expressed through the 3 Cs: Creed, Code and Cult meaning a visible communion in the teaching of the apostles (Creed), in the Church’s hierarchical order (Code) and in the sacraments (Cult). Every Eucharist we celebrate expresses visibly the communion we have with our Bishop and the Pope. In short, visible communion with the Church means that one accepts Catholic doctrine, receives the Church’s sacraments, and is subject to the Church’s governance. The phrase that best describes this visible communion with the Church is to be a practising Catholic.

Visible communion is important and this is one reason why the Church obliges the faithful to attend Sunday Mass and Pastors to make sure that it is possible for every Catholic to do so.

Also, the Eucharist as the Sacrament of Ecclesial Communion has implications for our ecumenical activities. In longing for unity with our separated brothers and sisters, we pray at Mass that God the Father will grant all of us, the fullness of the Holy Spirit so that we may become one Body, one Spirit in Christ. But, since the unity of the Catholic Church with the other Ecclesial Communities is far from perfect, the Catholic Church is cautious in the matter of intercommunion. [3] For example, a common understanding is that in order to receive Communion, one must believe that it is truly the Body of Christ that one receives. In actual fact, when you receive Communion, you are also saying “Yes, I believe what the Church teaches on Mary, on the Saints. I believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth”. When there is no acceptance of the Church’s teachings or governance, then it is a lie to receive Communion. [4]

We all want to be united. We all long to see visible unity. However, to use Eucharist as the “means” to unity is to short cut the long road to unity and in a way weaken our sense of how far more we are from the goal. Unity is a manifestation of truth. To short cut the long and winding road is to pretend that we are one. John Paul II concludes by saying that “the faithful observance of the body of norms established is a manifestation and a guarantee of our love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, for our brothers and sisters of different Christian confessions—who have a right to our witness to the truth—and it shows our love for the cause of unity”.

[1] St Paul is quite clear in teaching this in his letter to the Corinthians. “He who receives the Lord unworthily brings condemnation to himself”.
[2] The challenge in such a situation is “I can’t receive Holy Communion, so why come for Mass”? How does one reconcile our Sunday obligation and the fact that one cannot receive Communion? The Church's solution is found in the practice of “Spiritual Communion”.
[3] The Pope explains that if we ever give Communion to a baptised non-Catholic, “the intention in so doing is to meet a grave spiritual need for the eternal salvation of an individual believer and not to bring about an intercommunion which remains impossible until the visible bonds of Ecclesial Communion are fully re-established” (see #45). There are conditions to be fulfilled when a situation arises and they are set forth in the Code of Canon Law (CIC). In the case of Eastern Christians (Orthodox Churches) who have valid Eucharists, the Code provides that they may receive reconciliation, Communion, or the anointing of the sick “if they ask on their own for the sacraments and are properly disposed” (Check out CIC 844§2,§3, §4). The sacraments are principal means and signs of Ecclesiastical Communion—expressed through the 3 Cs: creed, code and cult. The other Christians (namely the Protestants) are divided from the catholic Church in varying degrees in faith (creed) worship (cult) and discipline (code) so that a general rule that applies is that the greater the measure of the difference in the creed, code and cult of an Ecclesial Community from that of the catholic Church, the stricter is the application of the restrictions. This is so that “indifferentism” may be avoided.
[4] Because of the differences in the expression and acceptance of creed, code and cult, free and general sharing of the sacraments would purport to be a sign of something which does not in fact exist. As an aside, the Church’s teaching on pre-marital sex follows along this reasoning too. Marriage between two baptised is a sacrament of Christ’s faithfulness to the Church. Sex before or outside of marriage is to call Christ and the Church to witness to a non-existent reality.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Ascension Year A

People call me “four eyes” because I have to wear spectacles to correct my myopia. The point I want to make is that, whether we use spectacles or not, we all “use” some form of viewing device that allows us to see and judge the world. These are philosophical assumptions we make in order to function and interact with people and with the world. The challenge arises when our assumptions prevent us from seeing beyond the visible or the tangible or the accepted. For example, this country is organised along certain assumptions. Without enumerating some of the more glaring “misconceptions”, one of the assumptions is to assume that “Allah” is a word whose use should be restricted to a particular religion. Stupid or asinine as that may be, it is often an arduous and demanding task to challenge people’s assumption. But it is not impossible.

The Ascension challenges one of the main assumptions we have of life. In a mediaeval presentation of the Ascension, we can only see the feet of Christ hanging beneath the clouds. This depiction challenges us our unquestioned assumptions about the world. Christ being swallowed by the cloud signifies the existence which He is ascending to. Only His feet visible to the Apostles and Mary strongly remind us of our shared destiny with him. St Paul clearly says so in the 2nd Reading—May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers. This you can tell from the strength of his power at work in Christ, when he used it to raise him from the dead and to make him sit at his right hand.

So, we are challenged to look beyond this world to the destiny which we are to share with Christ—to be at the right hand of God our Father. Thus, this world can only be a place of temporary refuge; a world of passage and not a world of permanence. But, myopic as we are, unfortunately, we are sometimes caught by the assumption that this is the only life there is. When asked if he was prepared for death, a terminally-ill patient replied, “Yes, I am. I have made my will”.

Preparation for death is more than making a will. Making sure that your worldly business is settled is important but, a simple Catholic preparation for death is to ensure that one has at least gone for confession and received viaticum before dying. Preparation for death is, if you like, living as if today would be the last day of one’s life. Many movies, in a situation of near death, like moments before a plane crashes, will depict people as making the sign of the cross, quickly grappling with the rosary or mumbling some prayers. This is perhaps a backhanded acknowledgement of a life beyond life but, by and large, movies of great catastrophe do not show people thinking beyond death or beyond this world. Often there is no mention of God or mention of regret for a life poorly lived. Instead, regrets would be for the good things we never had. This is not a sad reflexion of movie portrayals as it is a sad reflexion of our assumption... that eternal life cannot be better than this life. This perhaps explains why we cling to dear life.

Preparation for death is broadly covered in the 2nd Reading as it is confirmed in the Gospel. In the 2nd Reading it says: He has put all things under his feet, and made him as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole of creation. Our preparation for death means that we want to come under the reign of Christ in everything we say and do—in word and in action. But, we all know it is not easy because we experience how difficult it is when we sometimes allow Christ to enter only a part of our life, to inhabit a part of our heart.

Here is where the Gospel is encouraging. The Eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated.

Do not lose courage because preparation for death is a life-long process. There will always be hesitation amongst those who claim to follow Christ. There will always be some who believe in a half-hearted manner. When we limit Christ’s authority in our lives, when we pick and choose the parts of His teachings we like and quietly ignore what we are not comfortable with, then we have believed him half-heartedly [1].

Yet, Christ is not daunted by our half-hearted faith as He confidently commissioned the Apostles: Go, therefore make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. We often think that the command to teach as “ad extra”... that is, it deals with “evangelisation” or as bringing the Good News to the whole world. But the phrase “preparation for death” clarifies and also ties our understanding of evangelisation to a holistic existence. The mission ad extra, that is, of bringing the Gospel to other begins ad intra, that is, within us, that one’s entire life is preparation for death and only then is it also evangelical because one’s life is the very first Gospel that people will read even before they hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The 1st Reading gives us great hope because Christ told the Apostles: not many days from now, you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. The same Holy Spirit given at Pentecost is the one who will accompany us in this life-long preparation for death; this life-long preparation to enter heaven. Shall we not ask His help?

[1] The way to know Christ is through Prayer, Scripture and His teachings in the Church. This is why discernment is an important aspect of our preparation. Prayer, Scripture and Church teachings help us in the process of discernment. An important note is that when we accept parts of His teachings and reject parts of it by claiming that the Church cannot and does not know how to teach, it is to doubt not so much the Church but really to doubt Christ’s ability to teach, even through a Church which is made up of fallible human beings. That is why He assures us, “know that I am with you always, yes, to the end of time”. He intends to keep this promise despite ourselves. So, even though our rejection of certain Church teachings does seem like a crisis of faith in the Church’s teaching ability, it is in fact, a crisis of faith in Christ Himself.