Sunday, 24 April 2011

Easter Vigil Year A

Recently, an animation movie hopped into town, with a character named EB voiced by “l’enfant terrible” of the British entertainment scene—Russell Brand. He resigned from BBC after a scandal which involved leaving an obscene voice message on air during a phone-in session. This is just the side-salacious dish. What is more important is EB the character. Who is he and does he have anything to do with what we are doing tonight? From the looks of it. Nada. Nothing. First of all, EB actually stands for Easter Bunny and the premise of the movie centres around EB assuming adult responsibility of distributing Easter Eggs on the one day that matters most: Easter. In the movie, if at all any connexion can be made, the animation seems to show a total discontinuity with Easter by secularising what Easter is all about. They have this important deadline to meet with absolutely no connexion to why there is one in the first place. All we know is that there are billions of eggs to be distributed.

Present-day Easter Bunny has obscured the central message of what Easter is really about. Whilst Easter Bunny cannot be further away from Easter, the Easter Egg actually is strong symbol to what we are doing tonight. How? Let me tell you a story I read once about and it concerned a retarded [1] child named Stephen.

His Sunday school teacher wanted to illustrate the meaning of the resurrection and new life. So she gave them each an empty plastic egg shell and ask them to put an object into the empty shell to represent new life. One child had a tiny flower in it. “A lovely sign of new life," said the teacher. Next came a rock which the teacher thought could have been Stephen’s. But, its real owner shouted: “Moss! Moss on the rock symbolises new life”. The teacher had to agree. Then what followed was a butterfly and the child was quite sure that hers was the best. The fourth was empty and this time the teacher was quite sure that it should be Stephen’s. Politely, she passed it, to reach for the next plastic eggshell. Stephen spoke up: “Please! Teacher do not skip mine”. “But, it is empty”, said the teacher gently as not to “hurt” Stephen’s feelings. "That's right," said Stephen, "The tomb was empty, and that represents new life for everyone."

The story continues with Stephen dying on account of his deteriorating retardation. But, the profound insight we learn from such a written-off soul is what the Resurrection really means. The Resurrection’s most powerful symbol is the empty tomb. Contrast it with how we always want to fill up whatever is empty. I have this Easter Egg left outside my door by the Easter Bunny. It is filled with a heart-shaped chocolate piece. Most of our commercial Easter eggs seem to have missed the point.

My dear neophytes-to-be. You who will be baptised are signing up for this: the empty tomb whose emptiness symbolises the eternal life which Christ has won for you. St Augustine’s famous prayer about “restlessness” is helpful to understand what the empty tomb means. “O God, my heart is restless until it rests in you”. This restlessness is probably the equivalence of the empty tomb. There is a emptiness which can never be filled with things of this world. Try as we may, things of this world will only crowd our hearts but never will our hearts be at peace. Instead, things of this world can only weigh us down. No matter how much we try, we cannot belong to this world. Instead, that emptiness is symbolised by a restless heart longing for God. We may be in this world but we do not belong to this world.

Christianity is the Resurrection and no less. There is a difference between a resuscitation and a resurrection. Lazarus was resuscitated. It was miraculous but not really out of this world because he would die again. The resurrection is like a resuscitation and yet totally unlike it. According to Benedict XVI, and note that he uses the language scientists would go gaga about, “the Resurrection is the greatest 'mutation', absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life”. In the case of a resuscitation it might just be a newsworthy anomaly but this, the resurrection concerns us and the whole history of mankind. Through faith and baptism we become a part of this history.

So brothers and sisters, through baptism and a life lived in faith, death will never be able to hold on to us forever. The possibility of the Resurrection means according to St Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”[Gal 2:20]. And this is the implication of the Resurrection, it is not only now but for eternity
[1] Politically incorrect. Special is the preferred term. But, what is so special about special when the result remains being marginalised.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Good Friday Year A

A favourite of Catholics is this hymn: Jesus keeps me near the Cross. The wordings were composed by a blind Methodist poet who when after she had found Christ turned her poetic skills to lyrical use. Amongst the Protestants, there is a certain steadfastness associated with the Methodist which might explain why, initially, the “Cross” featured prominently in their theological playground. What can their steadfastness teach us about the Cross?

The Cross should never be far from a Catholic’s field of vision. We should to take to the Cross like ducks take to water. Why is the Cross so important? After all, it is an instrument of torture and would not our attachment to it border on idolatry?

The answer is to be found in our experience. Today is not a day of obligation. Yet, instinctively, one of the largest congregation is the 3-pm Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. Part of the reason is scriptural. According to Luke’s Gospel, the ninth hour was when Christ breathed His last. Therefore, Catholic imagination makes a powerful link between the 3-pm death of Christ and our salvation. Just as an aside, do you know that it almost always rains here at about that time every Good Friday?

What is unfortunate is that the connexion the Cross and salvation often does not go further. Many of us naturally shy away from the Cross. We are plain happy to accept that Christ’s death saved mankind. But, listen to what "more" the Catholic Catechism has to say:

The Cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the “one mediator between God and men”. But because in His incarnate divine person He has in some way united Himself to every man, “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” is offered to all men. He calls His disciples to “take up their cross and follow Him”, for Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example so that we should follow in His footsteps”. In fact, Jesus desires to associate with His redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of His mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of His redemptive suffering. [CCC618].

The Catechism tells us in no uncertain terms that through the Cross, we participate in His sacrifice. This is why Paul says in Colossians 1: 24ff, “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His body, the Church”.

At baptism, the outline of the Cross is traced onto our souls which means the shadow of the Cross is never far. It cannot be that a person can live his or her life without ever the shadow of the Cross cutting across his or her path. The Cross is real for every baptised person to the point that if there were no cross in your life, you should worry.

The statues have been covered since the 5th Sunday of Lent and will be unveiled later and this unveiling is significant for it allows us to look at the one Crucified so that we might see Him with fresh eyes and look into our suffering not to lament “why” but rather to ask “how” our suffering is important to Him in His redemptive sacrifice to save the world. How can our suffering help His mission?

Our solipsistic world is pathetically lonely. We would like to think that our social networking—facebook or twitter—has torn down the walls of loneliness, but the truth of the matter remains that so many are trapped in loneliness. And it is this lonely world that has actually forgotten the real meaning of the Communion of Saints. We belong together in this Communion which we sometimes call the “Church”, the “Body of Christ” or the “Bride of Christ”.

A major characteristic of this communion is that it is organic and this organic whole is made up of inter-related parts in a communion of sharing. And it is this communion that gives some semblance of dignity to our suffering—whether our suffering be physical, psychological or spiritual. Bishop Fulton Sheen used to lament what he called “wasted suffering”. When you are sick your body certainly gets wasted but that is not the meaning here. Wasted suffering means that there are many who have not come to realise the meaning and spiritual value of their suffering in the context of the communion. No suffering within this communion is ever wasted if we offer it to Christ—the bridegroom and the head. He knows what He can do with our votive offering.

So, where Christ our Lord is concerned, no one is ever a bystander, no one here is a “belieber”, as the fans of Justin Bieber call themselves. Instead, in Christ, fans become followers. We follow Him and so the Cross, in whatever shape and size, will never be far.

The Church is rightfully a gathering of “sinners” for suffering is somehow linked to sin. Sometimes we suffer on account of other peoples’ sins. But, in Christ, all sufferings are redeemed and so sinners come so that Christ may redeem them and sinners also come because they would like to offer, no matter how insignificant or how poorly, their sufferings to Christ so that He may apply that self-sacrifice along with His in order to save the world. Earlier I said that that if there is no cross in your life, you ought to worry. Satan will never place obstacles for those who are going to hell. But if there is, never be surprised for as the hymn suggests…. “Jesus keeps me near the Cross, there’s a precious fountain”.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Holy Thursday Year A

This evening, the Church is transformed into the Upper Room—the Cenacle. Later tonight, the Cenacle will fade into the Gethsemane. Today, the two foci are the two Masses which highlight two important Sacraments. Chrism Mass highlights the Sacrament of the Priesthood and the Last Supper highlights the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Traditionally, today is also called Maundy Thursday as it is derived from the Latin word Mandatum meaning “mandate”. Both Priesthood and Eucharist are born at the Last Supper and they are inextricably linked in such a way that there is no Priesthood without the Eucharist and no Eucharist without the Priesthood. In fact, this morning, just after midnight, I received a birthday greeting because someone had waited until after midnight to be the first to wish me “Happy Birthday”.

But, is there more to this mandate than highlighting these two Sacraments? Yes, there is. Christ may have given a mandate for which the two Sacraments came to be but it would not be off-tangent to assert that it is actually a day to think also about the Sacrament of Marriage, that is, if one looks at the bigger picture. Let me paint a bigger picture by sharing with you a little of my experience.

When I first started working in the parish, my reaction to difficulties was simply: “I don’t deserve it”. When I was exasperated, I would simply say “I don’t deserve this”—like this once when I had to go anoint a sick person in one of the swankier hospitals and was made to wait for visiting hours. Today, I recognise that kind of reaction as some kind of pride. Call it ageing or call it grace, I have come to realise that a less-than-comfortable tour of duty is supposed to be the rule rather than the exception, meaning, “difficulty” should be part and parcel of one’s duty as a priest. It means that one should not expect the priestly journey to be easy and this is where I realised how blessed I have been. It is a blessed realisation but more than that I am blessed because of you all. You have done so much more for me than anything I could ever do for you. You have helped me come to this realisation and I would say that this realisation is more than just the result of ageing gracefully. I might be flattering myself but I believe that this realisation is rather the fruit of the love of a people for their priest and vice versa.

This love between priest and people points to a larger picture. How? As I said earlier, the Mandatum is taken from John 13:34. Mandatum novum. A new commandment I give you: “Love one another”.

People, in general, think that the Mandatum novum, that is, this “love one another” is generically addressed to all Christians. It was as if on that night, Christ issued a generic commandment to all Christians. And we sort of accept it in its generic sense when we sing, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love”. Maybe it is just human to exist in generality but, generic love is a distillation of what is called particular love. Perhaps you may discern how the new commandment, the Priesthood, the Eucharist and Marriage are connected.

In a specific sense, Mandatum novum is addressed to all married couple because your particular love is the perfect and primary place for the practice of this new commandment. Why? Because, it is always easier to love everyone but much harder to love someone as it requires much self-abnegation. Often, you easily forgive the foibles of a stranger but would hold onto the faults of your loved one. “You did this or you did that” argument is an example of how we hold on to the faults of a loved one.

Marriage, as a sacrament, is premised on the relationship between Christ and the Church. Thus, man and woman represent Christ and the Church. In an analogous way, the relationship between Christ and the Church is also lived through the priest and the people. Priests are married in the sense that they are married to the people of God. For example: I can preach the same homily here and at St Ignatius. Let me tell you that the homily will sound better here than in St Ignatius. I dare speak a bit more. Why? Familiarity. It comes from the fact that here, you are my people and I am your priest. Such a relationship that can be recognised between Fr Albert and you too. He is at home here. You can ask Fr Peter for he was once upon a time the parish priest here or you can enquire of Fr Michael. I know he had a tougher time in Seremban which is why I consider myself so blessed here.

It has taken many years to appreciate this love of and for a people. I suppose I am less inclined to say “I don’t deserve this” because of love. And I always marvel at the fact that when I feel I can go no further, the grace of the sacraments carries me through. The Sacrament of Marriage has taught a lot about what my priesthood is supposed to be.

At Chrism Mass, which theoretically should have been celebrated this morning, all priests renew their commitment to priestly service. It should also be the moment where married couples do likewise. When you renew your marriage commitment, you begin to realise that you did not merely fall in love and then vowed to live a lifetime together but through the Sacrament, you vowed to live a lifetime of falling in love again and again.

Now you realise better that the Mandatum novum is directed both to priests and married couples. The love between a priest and his people, the love between husband and wife a powerful witness. The fortune of the Church is tied to the health of these two Sacraments, to the point that the failure of marriages will be matched by a drop in priestly vocations and the scarcity of priestly vocations is a reflexion of the collapse of the institution of marriage.

Tonight, both the Sacraments of Priesthood and Eucharist point to the Sacrament of Marriage. Mandatum novum is most powerful when priests are united to their people and husbands and wives are united in their love for one another. Make us grow in love together with Benedict our Pope and N. our Bishop and all the Bishops, with the clergy and the entire people, your Son has gained for you.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Palm Sunday Year A

Today I want to answer two questions. Firstly, what lesson can we draw from the Gospel read before the start of our procession. Secondly, there is a shift in mood. Is it significant?

The Gospel before the Blessing of Palms is anticipatory in mood. Christ comes into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. There is an Old Testament reference to the Prophet Zechariah cannot be missed [Zech 9:9]. The Messianic King will come riding on a donkey.

The donkey is an animal of peace. Kings of old would ride on horseback during wartime whereas ceremonial processions were accomplished through the lowly donkey. Whilst Jerusalem erupted into a frenzy befitting a military commander, Christ came unexpectedly as the King of Peace, riding a donkey never ridden before, thus signifying the sacred task the animal was conscripted into.

The crowd shouted rightfully so: Hosanna. Analogous to our SOS, it meant “save us”. But, they were actually asking for nothing. They merely wanted a “god” who could do their bidding. In this case, a saviour to liberate them from their political overlords: the Romans. But, the God who came to save was not a military saviour. Instead, He came to save the people; He came to save all peoples from sin. This King riding on the donkey actually challenged the “status quo” because his liberation was not limited by political or geographical constraints. Moses may have initiated a geo-political liberation but this King was leading an exodus that was more than earthly, more than geo-political and socio-economic liberation because it involved the definitive passage from the reign of evil to the reign of God; from the rule of sin and death to the rule grace and life.

It might not mean a thing to you to know this. Why? Well, life is hard. We struggle through life and in our struggles, many of us will pray and ask that God be generous to us as He listens to prayers and grants our petitions. It is natural we do that but are we asking too little? Sometimes we aim so low without realising that God wants to give us more.

Thus, the shift in mood is necessary. The mood is deliberately sombre. We even covered statues or religious images from last Sunday so that we can better appreciate the immensity of God’s generosity. In fact, the solemnity requires that we put aside even our deepest concerns and focus on the Passion narrative. Before the Blessing of the Palms and the Procession, the King rode a lowly. Here at the Passion Narrative, the King has become the lowly donkey. He has become the beast of burden Himself for He now carries our sins and heals our wounds. This realisation does not come so easily but bereft of “earthly” comforts and pleasures, Holy Week is the graced moment to recognise the immensity of God’s generosity. Do not settle for less than what God wants to give. Holy Week reminds us that God wants to give us eternal life and no less.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

5th Sunday of Lent Year A

At first glance, we are taken up by the account of Lazarus and his raising. In fact, the shortest verse in the bible consists of two words: “Jesus wept”. Weeping is a common sight at every funeral where because of great love, people wrench their hearts out for their beloved. [It seemed that raising Lazarus was not really a miracle because Jesus cried so loud that He woke Lazarus].

Anyway, a closer scrutiny will reveal that the raising of Lazarus actually points to the mystery of the resurrection. At the heart of the resurrection we find the sacrament of eternal life. The question is: “How is the Eucharist linked to the Resurrection?”.

The Resurrection is a funny sort of belief. Why? We profess a belief in the resurrection but it seems like we believe it for others because, at the time of death, many of us will behave as if there is no Resurrection. Alternatively, you can say that we profess it at the head but not at the heart. This is not at all a negative judgement of people who grieve. Perhaps this fact can be explained by love. For those whom we ought to love—for example, a second in a room with an enemy whose eyes you want to gorge out feels like an excruciating lifetime. But, for those whom we love—a lifetime is but a second. There is never enough time for those whom we love. Whilst love may explain why we set aside our belief in the Resurrection during moments of grief, it is also love which founds our hope in the Resurrection.
This hope is expressed through the Eucharist because the Eucharist is the food for and of the Resurrection. How?

You remember John’s Gospel where Christ had a conversation with the Jews, right after He had multiplied bread and fish to feed 5000. The people who later came looking for Him were looking for physical nourishment. But, Christ told them to look for the kind of bread that will sustain them for eternal life. He offered Himself as that bread and He told them unambiguously, “If you want eternal life, eat My Flesh”. The result was confusion and practically all left Him. He turned to the Twelve: “What about you, do you want to go away too?” Simon Peter answered for all of us, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life.”

Christ did not mince His words with regard to eating His Flesh in order to gain eternal life. The Body of Christ is food necessary for eternal life. Therefore, in the context of His unambiguous declaration, it would be ridiculous of Him not to provide us with the means for eternal life. Christ cannot make that statement without making sure that He supplies us with this Bread. This is what I mean by the Eucharist is at the heart of the Resurrection.

When we die we enter another plane of existence not constrained by time and space. Another plane of existence simply means that since time and space do not apply, the person may be dead with the body still in a coffin, yet he could already be purified. [1]

This is awesome implication for those who are baptised. The Church is at her best in the Eucharist because this is where the dead and the living are gathered as one to praise God. The altar is where the ecclesia militans, ecclesia triumphans, ecclesia penitens gather. And in order to be here, to enjoy the fruit of Christ’s Resurrection, the ecclecia triumphans and ecclesia penitens must have eaten the bread of eternal life when they were here on earth.

Let me tell you a real story to illustrate how important the Eucharist is to the Resurrection and here I want to reach out to those who are entering into a relationship that might lead to marriage.

I was called to the hospital the other day. It was an urgent call and I brought two important elements: oil for anointing and Holy Communion. I asked the usual question: “Can receive Holy Communion ah?”. The person said “No”. “Why?”. “Not married in Church”. It was an honest but painful answer. I discovered the reason which in the past may have made sense but here in the moment of life and dead, the reason no longer held. So I heard her confession and gave Holy Communion. She has since died.

It was a tragic funeral. She was not that old. In the room of the hospital where I had gone to, minus the pain of the so-called excommunication, I could sense that I was in the presence of a loving couple. At the funeral, I asked the husband if he loved her. It was a rhetorical question because the answer was obvious. Then I asked the reverse if he knew how much she had loved him. She had loved him that much to give up Christ. For more than 20 years, she deprived herself of Holy Communion for the man she loved. But all was not lost because at the moment of death, she regained everything and the Holy Communion she received was truly a “Viaticum”. It was really the Bread for the journey to eternal life. She received Christ who became her companion from this life to the next. And so, at the funeral, even as her body lay in decay, but freed from time, space and pain, and taking into consideration that she might already have been purified since we can only measure purgatory according to our time and space, she could already be present at the altar with the saints and the angels. Finally, I told the husband if he wanted to be close to her, the best physical location to be, where earth was joined to heaven, was to be at the Eucharist. This is an implication of the Eucharist at the heart of the Resurrection.

Those of you who are falling in love with non-Catholics. This is what you ought to remember: the Eucharist is our ticket to the Resurrection—it is the only Bread for and of Eternal Life. So, even at the beginning of your dating, this must be raised by you that you need Christ for your eternal life. It is perfectly alright to marry a non-Catholic. It is perfectly alright that your spouse does not convert. However, the rule that applies to children is different.

Why is it different? They need to be brought up and baptised as Catholics. Sometimes people will say, “Why cannot wait until they are old enough to think for themselves? In the matter of religion we should not force”. The answer lies in your children’s nutrition, education, health etc. What do I mean? In the case of dengue fever, you would never think of waiting until your child is 21 years old before deciding to seek medical help. Routinely you make decisions for your children. Baptism is a matter of eternal life because it opens the door to the Bread of Life.

And, you should be careful not to introduce a logical contradiction into your life. How? Each time you “communicate” [receive Holy Communion], you are assenting to the belief that the Bread you eat will lead you to eternal life. By refusing to baptise your child, you also saying: “I only believe it for myself but not for my child”. It is almost like saying, “I shall keep what is best for me but not for my child”. What type of mother or father are you? In the Gospel, Jesus Himself asked: “Would a father hand a scorpion to his child who asked for bread?”. But, if you can live with that, it just says quite clearly you do not know what you are receiving.

This is the 5th Sunday and we are inching closer to the mystery of our salvation. The raising of Lazarus is not really about him. Lazarus is just the side dish. What is at centre of this seventh sign is the Resurrection. The Resurrection is logically the promise of the Eucharist as St. Irenaeus (died 202) once said, "when our bodies partake of the Eucharist, they are no longer corruptible as they have the hope of eternal Resurrection" (Against the Heresies, IV, 18,5).

[1] All his sins, big or small, need to be purified before he worthy to join the angels and saints at the altar praising God. If a person dies and is not constrained by time and space, it means that funerals are for the living, never for the dead.

Monday, 4 April 2011

4th Sunday of Lent Year A

The Gospel this Sunday makes sense in the context of a journey. The grace of the miracle is basically the gift of faith. The man had lived in darkness his entire life and the consequence of an encounter with Jesus resulted not only in the restoration of his physical sight but more significantly it unfolded his spiritual sight through the gift of faith.

Through a series of interrogation, the man grew in his acknowledgement of Jesus, first as simply the man called Jesus, then, a prophet, later, as a man from God and finally, as the Lord. In his final acknowledgement, he worshipped Christ as Lord and God.

What can we learn from the experience of the man born blind?
First and importantly, the blind man’s encounter mirrors the journey of those who belong to the catechumenate. The catechumenate describes this special group of people who are preparing for their baptism. The blind man confesses ignorance before the people, before the Pharisees and before Christ Himself. Notice that the blind man confesses his ignorance and each confession is followed by a “profession” or acknowledgement of faith. Hopefully, one should be able to trace the outline of this miracle in the life of each catechumen as the miracle highlights the progression from ignorance to faith. If the movement from blindness to sight traces the journey from ignorance to faith, then for every catechumen, baptism becomes the logical conclusion of one who has come to know and want to worship Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Second, who says that the Matrix is a new movie? There seems to be a parallel universe here because running in tandem with this gradual enlightening of the blind man, we observe a sweeping shadow shrouding the minds of the Pharisees as they grew profoundly blind.

How do we explain this profound blindness? Why is it that the same encounter can produce such differing responses?

In the case of the blind man, there was a humble acceptance of his ignorance. That humility opened the heart for the gift of faith to enter. In the case of the Pharisees, how else can we describe their gradual blindness except to explain it as a hardness of heart?

How can we understand this hardness of heart? On the one hand, to have eyes and yet fail to see is akin to what in moral theology is known as invincible [not invisible] ignorance. This is a form of ignorance that may exempt/excuse a person from moral consequence/culpability/responsibility due to its involuntary and irretrievable nature. In other words, it is ignorance beyond one’s control and therefore one cannot be held accountable. To give an example of invincible ignorance, we have a tribe in Papua New Guinea where the grass is taller than the average tribesman. They have never heard of Christ and no one has brought the Good News to them—they are an example of invincible ignorance because they cannot be faulted for not knowing that Christ is the Saviour of the world. Few people fall into this category.

On the other hand, to have eyes and refuse to see—that is what we might call “vincible” ignorance and the consequence is dire. Many would belong to this category. Even the man born blind, but in his case there was a difference. His acceptance of his ignorance and his desire to know led to his enlightenment. In the case of the Pharisees, they were adamant that they could see. They were blind to their ignorance; that explains Jesus saying at the end of the gospel: “Blind? If you were, you would not be guilty, but since you say, “We see”, your guilt remains”.

To have eyes and yet refuse to see is a form of obstinacy. Why is that so? First, people are blind or obstinate because they do not sufficiently recognise the reality of sin. This is crucial. You would be amazed because people have come to the Sacrament of Confession confessing not their sins but how good they are. Some have the mistaken but deadly notion that since they are merely committing venial sins, they are nothing. Second, it is easy to think of "vincible" ignorance as a refusal as if it were deliberate; as if people purposely want to be ignorant. What "vincible" or culpable ignorance may reveal is that we do not sufficiently acknowledge that sin blinds us, even venial ones. [1] Without this realisation, the result can only be that we remain at best lackadaisical or at worst indifferent. And so, if we accept faith to be a gift, and for it to grow, we need to jump into the waters of conversion. Faith flourishes only through continual conversion.

Many of us might not know that there is a prayer for Exorcism for this Second Scrutiny. The word is sadly made graphic in connotation as if it were defined by Linda Blair turning her head 360 degrees. Our imagination is aided by Paranormal Activities I and II. But, exorcism has nothing to do with the gruesome nor the ghoulish. Instead, the prayer emphasises freedom from the falsehood of sin and it asks God to free all who struggle under the yoke of the father of lies. In the language of the 2nd Reading, “try to discover what the Lord wants of you, having nothing to do with the futile works of darkness but exposing them by contrast”. Conversion requires that we constantly bring our lives into light.

Finally, today is Laetare Sunday and we rejoice because our salvation is near. The intent of “rejoicing” is to give us a glimpse of the future. Yet, the “break”, the so-called “jubilee year” actually highlights the seriousness of our Lenten practice of praying, fasting and almsgiving. We need a break only because what we have been doing is critical to our conversion. Otherwise Laetare is empty rejoicing. Lent in its spirit is one of withdrawal because deprived of creaturely comforts and food we begin to purify ourselves so that free from inordinate attachments, we may see better.

Many of us are ashamed of and by our sins unless we are Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan. But, the more ashamed we are and the more we try to hide them, the more difficult will our conversion be. The gift of faith, without conversion, may also lead to blindness—just like the case of the Pharisees. Faith, for it to grow and not turn to blindness, it means that the conversion must never stop. It involves a lifetime.

[1] I was at Sunday School and I asked the children when they last went for Confession. Most, 99% said that their first was their last Confession. I gave an example of me going to hell. I asked this question: “If I were going to hell, what would happen if I killed a person”? “Nothing… I could kill and kill because I was already on the way to hell and it did not matter if I killed one more”. But, as it were, hopefully we are all aiming for heaven and so, venial sins mean something.