Sunday, 29 August 2010

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Have you heard this alternative story about four people who went to see the Wizard of Oz to ask for gifts and these four were not Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion. One asked for valour, the second for courage, the third for patience and finally the last for humility. Guess who went away looking like the Ugly Duckling?

It is a joke but never mind if you did not get it because it was just an illustration of the theme of this Sunday’s readings. In general, they point in the direction of humility. The first reading praises the person who is humble, a person who is conscious of who he really is. This person will find favour with God. It ties in with the Gospel where the key phrase is “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted”.

However, in a world where cosmetics is champion, humility is certainly a virtue that is best forgotten or ignored like the Ugly Duckling. And yet, it was humility that saved the world. Christ humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on the Cross. The second reading does not exactly put it in that way but it certainly gives the impression that the gathering of the New Jerusalem is around the Mediator of the New Covenant. Who is He but the one who is humble, whom God has exalted and given a name which is above every name and at whose name, all creation must bend.

If humility saves the world and yet we are caught in a world which views humility as the Ugly Duckling, how can we better appreciate the humility necessary for the salvation of our souls?

St Ignatius speaks of humility as three modes of being. The first mode of humility is characterised by lowering myself in as much as I can, so that I will be obedient to God’s law. In this mode of humility, I will not commit mortal sin. This basically characterises many of us. We try to live decent lives and not commit mortal sins. The second mode of humility is better than the first as it consists of a “detached” disposition. In as much as God can be glorified and my salvation can be assured, I choose neither poverty nor riches, neither honour nor dishonour, neither long life nor short life. The analogy here is the equilibrium of a see-saw. And here, I would not commit a venial sin. It is the nature of holiness that when we embark upon the path of holiness, not only do we try to refrain from mortal sins, we also try to conquer venial sins It is an ascetical ascent as we dispose ourselves to God’s grace. But, for many of us, the difficulty might be in the commission of venial sins. We are too attached to them to let go. For example, gossip is a sin too delicious to let go of. Finally, the third mode of humility consists of this: All things being equal, for the greater glory of God and for the salvation of my soul, I desire and choose to be with Christ poor rather than wealth, contempt with Christ laden with it rather than honours. Even further, I desire to be regarded as a useless tool for Christ, who before me was regarded as such, rather than a wise and prudent person in this world. This is close identification as I choose to follow Christ on the royal road to Calvary.

Now, not only do we live in a world where cosmetics is champion, we also live in a world where competition is champion. For example, those of us who give the “middle finger” at a car that cuts into our lane, we may view it as a venial sin which we no longer think twice of committing. But, a closer inspection will reveal that it is not so much a venial sin as it represents an insatiable need to win. Tell me you have never purposely inched your way closer to the car in front of you so that the car in the emergency lane cannot cut into yours? Of course, you reason that the manners of Malaysian drivers leave much to be desired and that is why you will not allow the person in but still, the real rationale is because we do not want to be a loser—the one who has no guts to challenge the other driver. Humility = weakness.

The truth is, it is not a mark of humility to let the other person through. It is not a mark of humility that sends the message out: step all over me. What is humility is perhaps the curbing of our desire to win all the time. And it cuts across every facet of our lives and not just our driving etiquette. In arguments, I do not need to have the last word. Let me give an example. By telling you this story, I think I am going to “sin”. At our recent pilgrimage in Lourdes, I had a fall in the toilet. According to an email sent to me, I fell because I was pissed drunk. I attempted to reply to the email but it back-fired. Finally, I just left it at that. Why? I did not have to justify myself and more importantly, there was no need to win the argument. Now why have I “sinned”? I am well aware that even by this little revelation I have “attempted to justify myself”. I seemed to have the last word! The point is, between friends, siblings and spouses—this is often the scenario—the need to justify or have the last word.

This is where we need to differentiate between “neurosis” and “kenosis”. Humility is self-emptying—kenosis—like Christ who emptied Himself of His divinity. But, some of us may mistake “neurosis” to be “kenosis”. What is neurosis? Let me give a working definition. Let us say we have a student who is a masochist and a teacher who is a sadist. At the end of the year, the teacher decides not to set an exam. Everyone cheers except this one student, the masochist. Humility and suffering are companions and the point is that not all suffering endured is humility. It could just be a neurosis; much like the masochistic student who loved to be "punished" with exams.

A holy priest in Manila used to remark that those who seek humility may be sinful. His explanation was that in order for us to feel humble, somebody has to sin. There is truth in what he said. Neurosis is a false sense of humility and there is a thin line between neurosis and kenosis. Here, the Ignatian principle might help. “All things being equal” meaning that if it does not involve sin, then we choose to stand with Christ humiliated. This is where true kenosis is. A suitable interpretation to explain this is when a situation is really beyond our control, it is when we begin to exercise humility. Humiliation is not something we actively search for but whenever we choose to follow Christ, be assured that there will be humiliation.

Finally, humility as a virtue needs to be supported by the Resurrection. Perhaps, humility’s struggle to be accepted as a viable virtue is but a reflexion of our struggle in believing the Resurrection. In a world where competition has gone wrong, humility is crowded out because we believe that the last and final word must be uttered in this world. But we are assured by the Gospel. “When you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again. The final word does not need be uttered in this world because the Resurrection gives us the assurance that our faith will be vindicated. Thus, to be truly humble, you need to hold to the truth of the Resurrection.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Salvation is a touchy issue for some of us. In this country, it is called a “sensitive” issue. But, seriously, how can we conceive of salvation but more importantly, whom is it intended for? In the Gospel, someone asked Christ pointedly: “Sir, will there be only a few saved”? The question was a number game and the person who asked probably had in his mind that salvation was restricted to the Jews. He was not wrong because the Jews thought themselves to be God’s chosen people. They still do. But, note that even as early as the time of the first reading, the question in the Gospel was already rendered academic or moot because the concept of salvation there was unmistakeably universal. God willed the salvation of all mankind. There was no restriction as to how many and whom was to be saved because God’s blessing on Israel was always meant to be shared amongst the nations of the world. “I am coming to gather the nations of every language”.

If God wills the universal salvation of mankind, then the relevant question is how is this universality to be achieved? This is where it becomes touchy or sensitive. Let me give an example.

Once I had to celebrate a Mass for a particular place. There was a purpose for the Mass: to pray that the students will pass their exams. I had been told that a large section of the congregation would be made up of non-Catholics and the suggestion was to tone down the “catholic” feel to it. No need to be so “catholic” about Jesus as the Saviour of the world.

I actually said to organiser, “Personally, I don’t really care what you want to do but what you are requesting begs this question: ‘Why do it when you need to apologise for being Catholic?’”

The Church believes that Christ is the Saviour of all mankind. He did not come to save Christians only. He came to save everyone. The theory that Christ’s salvation is intended for everyone is known as apokatastasis or apocatastasis. At the end of time, everything will be restored in Christ. Gaudium et spes, the Pastoral Constitution of Vatican II, described the Church in relation to this work of restoration that Christ is doing. In respect of Christ restoring all creation, the Church is the ‘universal sacrament of salvation’.(GS45).

We now wade into deeper waters. Some Catholics already have difficulty accepting that Christ is the Universal Saviour of the world—a claim which sounds arrogant. [1] And now, the Church is brought into the picture—to be the “universal sacrament of salvation”. According to the controversial document Dominus Iesus, what we say of Christ can be said of the Church as well. Christ has a significance and a value for mankind and its history and so does the Church for He did not merely constitute a community of disciples but He constituted the Church to be His instrument of salvation. As such, He and the Church forms the “whole Christ”. Thus as there can be no salvation apart from Christ, there can also be no salvation apart from the Church that is one with Him.

This is intolerable language in this age of “inclusivism”. How dare we?

The point is, when I go to a mosque or a temple, I do not expect a Muslim to pray quietly or a Buddhist monk or Hindu priest to chant softer because I am there. When the Buddhist speaks of Karma, he means that everyone and not just Buddhists are subjected to the judgement of karma. In other words, religion, if it were to be true to its character, must necessarily make ultimate truth claims. And even if it sounds alien, that is what it does and it should never apologise for its claims. For us, the name Jesus means “God who saves” and would it not be a contradiction that God can only save “Jews” or “Christians”? If God can only save this or that group of people, then He is no better than a magician for God is Saviour only in so much as He saves creation in its entirety and creation includes the whole of mankind.

Thus, from the universal claim of salvation, we come to what is personal to each of us. The universality of Christ’s salvation is not a guarantee that we will be saved. The mere fact of being baptised does not equate to “salvation”.

In conclusion, three questions can be posed from today’s readings. First, who is to be saved. Everyone is to be saved. That is the meaning of the universality of salvation. Second, how are we saved? The unequivocal answer is that salvation comes from Christ through His Church. This explains the Catholic focus on the sacraments. She is the sacrament of Christ and so she makes available His life-giving sacraments to those of us who have been incorporated into His Body. The role of the Church is to make the means widely available. It explains why the Church is evangelical in her mission. In bringing Christ to the world she becomes a part of His apokatastasis. Third, the Gospel speaks of entering the narrow gate. The question now is “Are you saved?” The narrow gate indicates that salvation is not cheap. It is not expensive from the point of view that we have to “earn” our salvation. "Salvation is not cheap" means that we need to cooperate with the grace of God in order that we may avail ourselves of the salvation that He wants to give.

I often say this to underline how privileged we are and what a heavy burden it is to be a Catholic. I tell people that there are more popes in hell than there are bishops. There are more bishops in hell than there are priests. There are more priests in hell than there are laypeople. But, consider the proportion. There have only been 200+ popes and you will work out that there are actually more laypeople in hell than there are priests, bishops and popes. But that is playing the number game as in the Gospel. What is important is to note as Christ Himself pointed out in the example of the narrow gate. The more you are given, the more will be expected of you. This may sound like some kind of “work” or duty enjoined upon you, but, the truth is we have been immensely blessed to be called by Christ into His Church. Let us live that vocation to the fullest of our abilities. Let us exude the joy of our Christian calling so that the world will know that indeed Christ has come to gather all peoples unto Himself.

[1] Part of our problem is the result of mutually excluding “sensitivity” and “expressing the truth”. Some of us think that “expressing the truth” would make us “insensitive”. The philosophy of “inclusivism” seemed to have placed a premium on “sensitivity” to the detriment of truthfulness. Expressing the truth and being sensitive are not mutually exclusive. What we should strive is to be truthful without being strident or that we should sound “triumphalistic”. In a world characterised by competitive capitalism, the challenge is to “sell” the truth of a religion without the arrogance of aggression and superiority. In the marketplace of shifting opinion, the truth of a religion is to be found in the authenticity of one’s life.

Monday, 16 August 2010

The Assumption Year C

In glossy tourist brochures, Malaysia is pictured as a country that is representative of Asia. You may have come across the tagline and advertisement Malaysia, truly Asiaemblazoned over double-decker buses in London, for example. One of the distinguishing features of our fabulously Asian country is the mix of peoples. However, I cringe each time we speak of Malaysia in terms of Malays, Chinese and Indians because it is a form of patronising arrogance that can only be explained as a blindness peculiar to Peninsular Malaysia. Malaysia is more than Malays, Chinese and Indians because she is also the true indigenous natives or the Orang Asal of the Peninsula, the Sabahans and the Sarawakians of Borneo Malaysia. In fact, the Sabahans and Sarawakians make the Church in Malaysia a Bumiputera Church simply because they make up the larger proportion of Catholics in Malaysia.

Anyway, it is precisely this narrow blindness that Malaysia is Malays, Chinese and Indians that the Solemnity of the Assumption has something to say to. Why? Despite the picture that is painted for all and sundry that everything is hunky-dory in this Asian melting pot of cultures and peoples, all we need is to scratch the surface and beneath the false façade of racial and religious harmony, we discover a debilitating despair and also a collective denial. There is a disquieting despair because the future for freedom and the health of the financial system (politics and economy) does not seem to inspire confidence. Otherwise how to explain the brain haemorrhage? I wrote this homily at 4:30 in the morning and I wanted to describe this cloud of gloom as a kind of malaise, when I realised that I could be opening myself to trouble because some people may jump to the conclusion that I have spoken badly of the Malays when in fact, the word malaise spelt as “malaise” merely described our depressing condition rather than defined a race. If everything were hunky-dory in what we claim to be a functioning democracy, why do we need draconian laws? [1] The point is, we all know that it does not take much to ignite a situation. In fact, it does not take much to lob a Molotov cocktail or an animal’s head into any religious place of worship. There seems to be no future for some people under the Malaysian sun. Here I want to be clear that I am not interested in making a critique of the political or economic system of the country but I am trying to verbalise the hopeless desperation that many of us feel quietly. Tell me that I am wrong but you know that I am not.

Thus, the temerity of the Catholic Church is relevant to our current despair. The point is how audacious we are to celebrate the Assumption on a Sunday, the dies Domini, the day of the Lord? Who is this Mary that even Christ the Lord makes way for her? Crucially, how can she be relevant to what we are feeling inside but dare not express openly?

Let me start by re-telling a nursery rhyme which many of you are familiar with. There are different ways of reciting this rhyme but here is how I would do it. It is called “For want of a nail” or “For lack of a nail”.

For want of a nail, a shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, a horse was lost. For want of a horse, a general was lost. For want of a general, a battle was lost. For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost. All for want of a tiny insignificant nail. All because a tiny nail went a-missing.

The rhyme illustrates for us that small things can have significant consequences. In the economy or the history of salvation, Mary is that tiny insignificant nail. But, here is the twist. She may be the insignificant nail but the story is not about the nail but rather about how God uses the nail to prevail against evil.

Look at the 1st Reading. On one level, it speaks of the past. It points to the rescue of Israel from the forces of the great Pharaoh and the mighty Egyptian army. The imagery is poignant because here you have the woman given a pair of wings, reminiscent of what God said, “I will give you eagle’s wing”. And where does she flee to? The desert. The desert brings the reader back to the past event of the Exodus. But, on another level, the reader is brought into the present Roman Empire which does not think twice when she snuffs out kingdoms along her conquering march. No one in the known world of the Evangelist could withstand the power of this Empire. The past and the present point to the future. For, history has proven that this tiny little ostracised Jewish sect was to be the downfall of the empire. Christianity was to conquer the Roman Empire—not by force but by conviction.

The Assumption is definitely a reminder that in the schema of God’s plan, there is a future. We call it the Resurrection. Death is not a sign of defeat but rather God, by the death of His Son, has prevailed over darkness. And it all started with a tiny and insignificant nail. The proof is found in the Gospel. There, you find a young woman, in danger of being stoned to death for adultery, audaciously singing the Magnificat extolling the great deeds of the God who saves. The Magnificat is both a promise of the future and a hope for the present. We can only arrive at the future when we live in the present. But, unfortunately, in the current climate of despair, we either fear the future or we live in the past. When we have no faith in the future, it is possible that we are struggling to believe the Resurrection. Many people question what could possibly come out of the present. And the usual response is either we cling to the nostalgic past [like the honk of the “roti- man" (bread-seller), according to a Deejay] or we languish in the pessimistic present.

According to the 2nd Reading, the Assumption points towards the future fulfilment of a pledge and yet it is grounded in the hopeful present that even though the evil and corruption that surround us may seem insurmountable, we are assured that Christ is even more powerful and He has prevailed. Therefore, the Assumption is not irrelevant. Instead it offers us consoling hope in our present pessimism. We may be small nails but Mary shows us that God can make something out of nothing. It just means that we must dare to sing the Magnificat for “He has shown the power of His arm. He has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted” the lowly insignificant nail.

Later, after the Profession of Faith, you will sing the offertory hymn. Listen to the words as they point us out as insignificant nails but really, the hymn is a faint echo of the Magnificat as it extols what God can do even if we are small and insignificant.

[1] Like a neighbouring country where people are “law-abiding”. The truth is that they are only law abiding in as much as there are fines for every minor infraction of the law. Plato gives a cynical explanation of why people are just, that is, why people keep the law. He says, “Justice is for those who have no courage to be unjust”.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

This evening we have the Rite of Acceptance. The readings are pertinent to what we do. The first reading describes a future unknown—the after-life—which we should not be afraid of. The second reading speaks of how we are to conceive of the after-life—in terms of faith and hope. We are to live in faith and hope as we long for the after-life. Turning to the Gospel, we find the same focus on the after-life but this time, with a twist. Instead of the servant springing into action, it would be the master who serves the servant.

How are the readings relevant to the Rite of Acceptance?

First, the spotlight shines clearly on a topic many of us are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with—the after-life. This after-life is a reality that catches many unawares. We never know how close we are to death and different people respond differently. In general, there is a universal fear of death. For some cultures, it is a taboo subject and so, the first reading addresses this fear on the basis of historical experience. “That night had been foretold to our ancestors, so that, once they saw what kind of oaths they had put their trust in, they would joyfully take courage”. Trust has a historical basis as we see God’s faithfulness to Israel during the Exodus. But, because we cannot fathom what the after-life holds, the second reading encourages faith and especially holds up to us, the figure of Abraham, our father in faith. He left the very place he had called home for an unknown land promised to him and his descendants. According to the author of the Hebrews: Faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen. However, nowhere does trust and faith encourage complacency—the complacency we are warned against in the Gospel. Instead faith leads to vigilance and the Gospel ends positively by describing the vigilance of the servant who is rewarded with the unthinkable. It the end, it is the Lord who becomes the servant.

We have two possibilities before us. The first possibility belongs to our faculty of choosing. We can choose not to fear and put our trust in the God who never fails. Thus, be vigilant because the reward is beyond expectations. Or second, and this is not always a matter of choice. Many are most “stuck” because of the “unpredictability” of death. Death is almost like a veil of darkness beyond which we peer.

Our response to the unpredictability of life often takes us along the path of a planner. In order to navigate the unknown we plan for any eventualities. We would want to make sure that every variable is under our control. For example, we are encouraged to engage a financial planner as we plan our financial future.

But, our response should not be just the mode of a planner. We must keep before us that no matter how much we plan, life has a way of behaving independent of our planning. When things do not turn out the way we have mapped out, planners usually develop cynicism. Cynicism is often a response to repeated failed attempts at corralling or controlling life.

A pilgrim, on the other hand, is one who accepts life as it unfolds. When I was studying in Dublin, I remember my complaints were always met by my Jesuit brother who used to remind me that “it could be worse”. A planner like me got really annoyed with such a view of life that seemed rather fatalistic bordering on apathetic. But, as I struggled to shape my life according to my schemes and schedules, I began to realise that he had not been wrong. Neither had he been fatalistic. Instead, he had a better pulse of life. Life’s failures and disappointments were the final statements in life but they were real occasions for spiritual growth. A pilgrim dares to accept life as it unfolds because he knows that there is a planner who is larger than the life we know.

This Sunday, the pilgrim invites the planner into a life of faith. Like Abraham who uprooted himself for a new country to stay. The only compass a pilgrim has is his faith in God. However, faith is not foolhardiness in the sense that it is an “either or” option—that one is either a planner or a pilgrim. In fact, we are both. We plan, in as much as we are a logical and a rational people. Organising life is part of what makes us human. And yet, we must never forget that we are pilgrims—people on a journey—recognising that this is not our homeland forever.

The rite of acceptance we celebrate invites this group of people to embrace a life which makes them pilgrims on a journey towards life eternal. The only price the pilgrims pay is faith and vigilance to the Lord’s call. The fulfilment of God’s promise is always beyond our expectation. At the end of this pilgrimage, the vigilant will be rewarded by the Lord who will come to serve him Himself. That is a promise we can stand on.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

To those who are old enough, do you remember the song, “You’re so vain”? To those too young to remember, this song was written and performed by Carly Simon who sang of a man who thought that the song was about him. That is vanity as we commonly understand it—something related to excessive pride in one’s appearance or accomplishments or that one is conceited. But, vanity as conceit is a secondary meaning. Instead, its primary meaning points to futility, nothingness or vacuity.

That is the sense of both Ecclesiastes and the Gospel.

Firstly, Ecclesiastes is not just a blast from the past but something which is relevant for today. To those who have not slaved for their money, it is easy to spend. Have you observed that for the first generation of the rags-to-riches immigrants, the use of money is guarded? They are guided by prudence and when they pass on, you will find that the second generation will more or less follow the path of prudence. Usually, it is the third generation who will squander the wealth of the first generation. However, today in our materially saturated world, the comment often heard is, children do not know the value of money. [1] It seems that imprudence no longer skips a generation. The main point is the author of Ecclesiastes does not offer a solution to how prudence can be passed on. Instead, he merely highlights to us the futility or the emptiness of amassing too much wealth.

Secondly, the Gospel parable may be about the barn and all it can hold. Even though a bursting barn suggests of accumulated stock or plentiful supply, what it really signifies is “nothingness” and the painful truth that we actually own nothing.

In short, both readings redirect our attention to impermanency as a constitutive condition of human existence. Nothing on our side of the divide is forever. Everything on our side of the divide is temporary. Whatever we may possess, we cannot hold onto it forever as we are made for impermanence. Even the mighty Roman Empire literally woke up one day to find her Pax Romana, the Roman peace that encircled and protected the empire, crumbling. The Pharaohs built great tombs for eternity but they never woke up in them.

Nothing lasts forever. It is a depressingly uncomfortable statement. However depressing it may sound, it is important to note that impermanency is not an invitation to nihilism because nihilism is a cynical philosophy that prescribes self-destruction. Instead, impermanence is an invitation to gaze beyond what we have to the treasures that really await us. Here we realise that impermanence is actually a relational term because it calls our attention to that which is permanent. Something is temporary only because there is eternity. All the great monuments in the world are testaments to eternity because they represent our futile attempts at replicating what belongs to eternity in our temporal world. [2]

First, as a relational term, we are reminded that everything which we hold to be important, when placed in the horizon of eternity, is rendered as mere nothing. Things are important only in so far as they help us to see beyond this temporary world. Second, as mentioned above, the impermanency of the world is not a negation of what good can come of the world. Here, we are brought into the second reading where St Paul speaks in terms of idolatry—false gods. When we subvert what is good for the journey into a good for itself, we begin to lose sight of eternity. For example, food is good but never for itself. We eat in order to live, in order to gather strength for the journey. Comfort and convenience are good but never for themselves. We may seek creaturely comfort to relieve the tedium of life and convenience is necessary for life’s organisation but today they have become the gods we worship at the altar of consumerism. Passions and desires are good but not when they degenerate into uncontrolled lust.

In a manner of speaking, we have not really lost our sense of the eternal. It is true that our sense of the eternal is weakened because we are buffeted by the storm of constant change. But, consider the irony that surrounds us. You buy your car and the next model is around the corner. You buy your notebook and the next model’s is twice faster than the one you just bought. You finished renovating your house but before you have repaid the mortgage, another renovation is up again. Those with iPhones 3 are now salivating for the new iPhone 4. If you like, the charge of constant change screams impermanency, but instead of directing our gaze towards the eternal, what is unfortunate, is we are entangled in the web of keeping up with what is impermanent. Why?

The Gospel may provide a clue. It starts with a man in the crowd asking Jesus to adjudicate between him and his brother. In response, Jesus cautions the crowd to watch against avarice or greed. What is avarice or greed? We often think of avarice or greed as the insatiable need to accumulate but in truth, greed or rapacity merely reflects a culture that refuses to accept the impermanency of life.

Nowhere does the Gospel passage say that wealth or even its accumulation is evil. So let us not get lost in unnecessary guilt of having or possessing. What the Gospel highlights is the inevitable connexion that impermanency has with death. We disguise our fear of death by speaking of causes. She died of cancer. He died of AIDS. Or we hide behind statistics. 99% of people who smoke will die from lung cancer. 72% of the elderly will develop Alzheimer’s. The other 28%? Parkinsons? The truth is whatever the causes, the statistics stand that 100% will die. The song "Every breath you take" by Police is most apt not because it sings of the strength of love but because every breath just means one breath closer to death.

In conclusion, impermanency is not meaningless when placed in the context of eternity. It is definitely not an invitation to a depressing despair but rather an encouragement to keep before us the purpose of life. What are we here for? Is life more than a series of eating, drinking, sleeping, enjoying, etc? And when the time is up, whenever it is or wherever it may be, how shall the Lord encounter us? These are questions that come to us from eternity and the answer we give will shape the eternity we want after this temporary life is up.
[1] If Ecclesiastes can offer any help, it is that privation or deprivation is a good teacher.
[2] At best they become icons. Icons function by pointing to realities beyond themselves.