Sunday, 26 August 2012

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

This Sunday, concludes the series of John’s Discourse on the Bread of Life. The conclusion of the chapter draws our attention to a topic which we do not hear so much of these days: Virtue.
However, there is a connexion between last week’s discussion on the rubrics and this Sunday’s topic on virtue. Last week, I elaborated on the importance of rubrics, meaning the Church’s prescription for how the Mass is to be celebrated. In the previous part of John’s Gospel, the accent was expressly on the Real Presence. The Magisterium rightly emphasises clerical faithfulness to the rubrics because we are dealing with a mystery so profoundly divine. The Church needs to guarantee that what you are getting is the Real Thing1 and since it concerns a matter of eternal life, there is a need to protect the people in the pew from abuse arising from the arbitrary whims of the priests.2
Since Vatican II’s so-called “renewal”, the laity has been subjected to a barrage of liturgical abuses, from as subtle as a seductive suggestion of a warm welcome3 to the blatantly destructive in the name of progressive novelty and inculturation. Such a negative development should not come as a surprise because rubrics are cloaked in a certain rigidity that runs counter to the spirit of spontaneity. In fact, faithful adherence to the rubrics runs diametrically opposed to freedom loving spontaneity.4
It is said that since the inception of Modernity, there has been an obsession to occupy the mind.5 An obsession fuelled by our loss of place amongst reality. Since we can no longer grasp reality in itself, we necessarily turn out attention to subjective meaning.6 Thus, as long as the “mind” is not involved, rubrics belong to the category of mindless repetition of meaningless gestures.
Finally, an aversion to rubrics is undoubtedly influenced by a myth of the pristine past (Protestant in origin) whereby the rubrics are viewed as expressions of the centuries-old encrustation of the true celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Christ was rather informal and rubrics just made His “meal” so stiflingly formal.
Now the rubrics direct our attention to how John Chapter 6 ends this Sunday. Firstly, the conclusion turns out to be an anti-climax. It certainly was not the ending that Jesus would have hoped for. But, I suspect the Lord was not at all surprised. He knew that He was at a point of no return. He resolutely did not back down. Joshua in the first reading provides the key to understanding what it means that we face a Saviour who does not back down. According to Joshua, it is time for the people to choose either to serve or to abandon God. The same scenario is re-enacted in the this Sunday where Peter must answer for the Eleven: “Lord to whom shall we, go for you have the words of eternal life”? The same is now presented to us.
It is about choosing God and of course, there is no suggestion that strict adherence to the rubrics should be equated as choosing God.7 Choosing is more than choices. For if choosing were merely choices, all of us would qualify as experts because our supermarkets and shopping malls are temples of choices. Instead, the Lord challenges Peter and the Eleven tochoose.8
The second reading gives us a clue about this choosing as it speaks of the relationship between a man and woman in the context marriage. We all know that a wedding does not a marriage makes. Instead, daily one chooses to be a married man. Your vows do not make you a husband. Your daily choosing makes it so. Usually, the choosing does not feel good especially after a quarrel or a strong disagreement.
To choose leads us into the territory of virtue. According to St Thomas, virtue is defined as good habit bearing on activity. Essential to the notion of virtue is habit. Not every habit is a virtue but every virtue will involve some form of habitual activity. According to the Catechism, a virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself, in other words, to excel. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions. For the goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.
How do rubrics come into play with regard to the formation of virtue? Firstly spontaneity is over-rated. Granted that some of the best times we ever had may have come from the times we acted spontaneously.9 But, by and large our lives are organised according set repetitive rituals. And yet, that does not mean that our lives are meaningless. In this context, the “dull repetitive” Mass we celebrate reminds us that there is an asceticism involved because life’s purpose is not restricted to searching for self-fulfilment only but through self-examination, self-correction, self-mastery and penance as both physical mortification and spiritual reparation, we trudge towards heaven. However, when we forget heaven, then we will forget that there is a difference between feeling good and being good. Spontaneity appeals to our sense and need to feel good, whereas, a virtuous life stresses the need to be good. We sometimes mistake goodwill as the need to be good, as if goodwill is good enough.10 Goodwill is not enough because the language we use for the Eucharist is sacrificial and it challenges our comfort zone.
Faithfulness to the rubrics of the Eucharist resembles the practice of virtue in the sense that they call us to mortify this need to feel good. This asceticism fits in with the requirement of truth because it involves a humility of obedience and also the application of moral virtues to the irregularity of Man’s fallen nature. As such, virtue has a lot to do with the faculty of choosing to the point that we become habitual in our choices for good. The first time you get up to give your seat to an elderly person, it is tough because you would be thinking, “What would people say”? But if you persist, even if you feel it against your nature, you will soon find yourself doing it without even thinking of it. That is the power of good habits.
All of us want to go to heaven, I presume. Or as the case may be, for many of us, heaven can wait because we are uncertain about the quality of heaven—we have not seen it nor have we tasted it and we have never had it so good in this life. But, seriously, if we want to go heaven, then virtues are the steps we need to bring us there. In that way, slow and steady, through regular practice, just like we observe the rubrics, we forge a road, that by habit will bring us to the gates of heaven and to reach there, the only Bread and only the Real Thing that can carry us there and through the gates is the Bread of Eternal Life.
1 The import of this insistence is gleaned through the principle of ecclesia supplet meaning that the Church provides out of h er treasure of grace, the proper remedy for the defect of the minister’s action. It is a theological and canonical principle which holds that even if there is some common error, such as in the jurisprudence or the performance of a sacrament [see 1983 CIC 144.1], as long as the minister intends to do what the Church intends in that action, the nature of the Church “makes up” for any insufficiency or error on the priest’s part. It is a helpful pastoral principle to guard against scrupulosity. A good example of the Church supplying jurisdiction for an act would be a penitent going to a priest, not knowing that the priest lacks the necessary faculty to hear confession. His sins would be forgiven. However this principle rests upon the “intent” of the priest. It cannot be applied willy-nilly if a priest deviates from what is prescribed by the Church… for example when the “formula” necessary for the forgiveness of sins is not used or the formula for the consecration is changed —words necessary for the validity of a sacrament. It follows from ecclesia non supplet quod ecclesia non habet—the Church cannot supply what the Church does not have.
2 Each time a priest deviates from the norm of the celebration, the congregation would be left wondering what he would do next. Is that not a form of distraction where the celebrant draws attention to himself rather than to the worship of God?
3 For example, in the name of community building, the “Sign of Peace” is moved to the beginning of Mass so that we can enter into the feel of the Mass more easily.
4 Rubrics suggest of staid, lifeless and automatic following of rules and regulation. In its opposite, we have spontaneity. Tied in spontaneity with adrenalin and you have a fun-filled cocktail. However, spontaneity may also be a sign of disrespect. A good example would be an invitation we want to send to a person of importance. Even though the intention might be noble to invite someone however, the leaving it to spontaneous chance highlights a disrespect which says, “I would like you to come to my party but then it does not matter whether you can make it or not”. Thus, anything that is important, we circle it with a certain respect that can only come if we delineate it properly. Otherwise, it is too chancey and ultimately demeans what we intend to do. Spontaneity is also superficial and shallow.
5 The present stress on child-development may just be symptomatic of this obsession with occupying the mind. Kumon or kindergartens, pre-school or playschool all are geared to give the child a head-start. You must have seen how a child goes for his “family” dinners (accent is on family) carrying an iPad. We care about their prowess in all sorts of talents but what about socialising them into a life of virtue? We do not see the need for the body (yes, the hand-coordination etc etc) to be educated into a posture of “relationality”—a child sitting and conscious of his surrounding, not being able to take part in the conversation but nevertheless he is there. No. Instead, we enable a child to enter into his little self-enclosed world oblivious of the body’s relation to others who are present.
6 The brain is constantly trying to excite itself so that it knows that it exists. This is corollary of the Cartesian, Je pense donc que je suis. I think therefore I am. If I do not think, do I exist? A certain compulsion to engage the mind has not set us free but that instead it has imprisoned us in a solipsistic loop of self-validating ennui.
7 You would have heard of the Irish saying “Paddy goes to Church on Sunday but Paddy goes to Hell for what he did.
8 If price is a function of supply and demand in economics, then choosing is a function of freedom. In order to be, we need to choose. And here, set before us are not just choices but hard decisions to make for in our choosing, there will be life threatening consequences.
9 Like the time you decided to up and go to Bali where you met the most beautiful girl who has since become your wife. It may be true for some but certainly it is the stuff for Hollywood movies.
10 All of us possess goodwill and that is where it resides… at the level of intent. Many of us like help but it is never convenient like during an accident. If at all we slow down, it is hoping to catch a glimpse of the blood-splattered victim of accident to see if he or she is alive. And we move on.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Once, at a retreat, I attended Mass celebrated by a renowned Jesuit priest. It was peculiar Mass in that it did not follow the prescribed rubrics we all recognise. It took place in an open field and it moved according to the rhythm of the Stations of the Cross to culminate at the grotto of our Lady where there was an altar to celebrate the second part of the Mass, that is, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It started to rain just as we were about to conclude the Liturgy of the Word. We were blessed enough to be able to take shade in the grotto where we stood behind the celebrant for the “Liturgy of the Eucharist”. At Communion time, I abstained and was consciously uncomfortable that I was sending a message of rejection. In the end, I found out that two other priests also did not receive. Not by any stretch of imagination could what we had be considered a valid Eucharist.
This Sunday we continue to linger on the topic of what the Eucharist is. It is the Body of Christ sacrificed and the Blood of Christ poured out. Ritual1 thus plays an important role in how the Eucharist ought to be celebrated. The recently introduced new translation of the Roman Missal highlighted a post-Vatican II phenomenon, the effect of which we are still experiencing today. In the process of updating the language and the rubrics of the celebration, we had unwittingly embraced a process which led to a desacralisation2 of the liturgy.
This Sunday, as Jesus insisted that His Body and Blood are real food and drink, a pertinent question for us to ask is whether the Eucharist should be emphasised more as a memorial of the Cenacle or should its focus be a re-presentation of Calvary.
According the Pope Benedict, an over-emphasis on Cenacle runs counter to scriptural witness but not only that. An over-emphasis on the Eucharist as meal has had implications that are far reaching. First, it opened the way to many a manipulation of the Eucharist. As noted before, the process of desacralisation included the embrace of popular music, the removal of communion rail, communion by hand and the adoption of the versus populum posture of the priest. In other words, the process of dumbing down saw to it that the form or the shape of the Mass became nothing more than a communal meal rather than it being what it was supposed to be: a sacrifice. In some cases, one cannot tell the difference between what is sung at a Senior Nite Party3 and what is sung in Church. I am sure you remember those days where so-called hymns were sung to the tune of “Blowing in the wind”.
Second, an over-emphasis on a meal setting has also desensitised us to the reality of Christ presence in the Eucharist to the point that our practices are not from a Protestant setting. For some, the Eucharist has become nothing more than symbolic sham. Observe how Communion is received. Many do not prepare before Mass, or they pay scant attention to the liturgy during Mass proper and the moment of reception, the posture indicates that they have no consciousness of What they are consuming. In fact, there may be no correlation between Whom4and What they receive simply because many understand that they are receiving merely a symbol; albeit, a powerful symbol.
But, the Gospel begs to differ. A check on the language will show that Jesus was very literal in His description of the Eucharist as being His Body and His Blood. Over the multitude’s objection, Christ did not mince His words. Instead, there was an insistence that bordered on vehemence. “Indeed” or “truly” or “certainly” are some of the translations to the Greek “Alethos” or truth. As a result, the Church believes that, Whatever and not just Whoever, walked the earth 2000 years ago, is What we consume. We eat the Body of Christ—His substance and His entirety.
Why do we need to eat His flesh and drink His blood? Protestants would argue that Christ spoke metaphorically as He did when He claimed Himself to be the gate, the way, thelight or the true vine. Would Catholics not be cannibalistic then? From the beginning of Christianity itself, the charge had been made against Christians that they were nothing but cannibals. In a culture of “personal” morality, an inculcated abhorrence that we may be cannibalistic is enough to drive us to embrace the relative comfort of Christ speaking, not the truth about His flesh and blood, but metaphorically or symbolically. But, there must be a reason why the Church never considered the Eucharist as merely symbolic but is truly the Flesh and Blood of her Lord and Saviour.
At the Incarnation, the physical Body of Christ came into existence. At His death on the Cross, the Mystical Body came into existence. At the moment of His death what had been only the physical Christ has now added members with whom He has united Himself as their head. The added members form the Mystical Body of Christ, otherwise known as the Church, and it is to this Body that He the head must tend.
Christ gave us Himself so that we might get His strength to be His Body. In the Eucharist, we become what we eat. In this context, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the carrying of a Monstrance and processing through the streets speaks volume to each one of us: members of the Mystical Body of Christ carrying the Body of Christ signifying the intent of every member to become more Christ-like and best way to do it is to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood.5
We are not cannibals6 for desiring to consume the very Flesh and Blood of Christ because they are life. The Christ present in the Eucharist is not Christ dead but alive and resurrected. Furthermore we do not eat a part of Christ but we consume the whole of Christ—His divinity and His humanity, His body and soul. It follows that at Communion, it does not matter whether we receive a big piece of bread or small piece of host. They both contain the same essence of Christ. This also explains why we do not need to give communion under two species.7 Eating the bread already means we have consumed the whole of Christ.
In summary, to receive the Eucharist is a profound act because it is as close as one will ever get to Christ our Lord in this life. Christ Himself wants us to have His life and so, in the delivery of so precious a gift, the Church our Mother must do all she can, through the proper celebration of her rituals, to ensure that her children are fed with nothing less than the very Bread of eternal life; the Bread that can guarantee eternal life.

1 Rituals provide certainty over the outcome of what we are celebrating. Two points can be noted here. Firstly, note that there is a thin line that separates magic from mystery. Magic—incantations, symbolic actions, mantras—attempts at manipulating the “divine” in order to accomplish one’s will. But, in the case of the Church’s liturgy, rubric is not the attempt to control the divine. Instead, it becomes the only guarantee we have that what the pew receives is no less than what Christ and His Church intended for the recipient. In today’s world where the accent is on the expression of “individuality”, faithfulness to the rubrics expresses a humble desire to submit to the Divine will. Thus, if magic is defined by the will of the magician, then true worship expressed by through the rubrics is defined by the will of the One worshipped – in this case, the Lord Jesus. Secondly, insistence on adherence to rubrics is not a sign of intolerance. Instead, the more something is important, the more “rules” are needed for us to be certain. For example, the more a person is allergic to say, peanuts, the more we need to be “certain” that the food cooked and served should contain absolutely no trace of nuts in it. The Church’s insistence on liturgical rectitude is indicative of her high regard for the Body of her Lord and Saviour.
2 By no means was the process restricted to the Eucharist. For example, the Sacrament of Baptism de-emphasised Original Sin and was re-visioned as a sacrament of community.
3 This is not a commentary on the Senior Nite Party but rather of the liturgy. Liturgy was no longer Divine Liturgy but a communitarian liturgy simple because its focus was on us rather than on God to whom we owe honour, worship and glory.
4 Is it any wonder why Jesus Christ “cannot” be the Saviour of the world? He is anything but God made man—a social worker, a psychologist and better still, a revolutionary leader. He liberates more than He can save.
5 The necessary caveats apply. We prepare ourselves to receive Him worthily. It does not denote perfection on our part.
6 An experience of the past might illustrate how we can understand our distaste at the suggestion of cannibalism. Those of Chinese ethnic background and old enough may remember how parents introduce solid food to a baby. I remember watching my aunty chewing the rice in her mouth before giving the masticated food to the baby. At that time, there was no suggestion of germs or bacteria. Certainly we would not get the Americanism we are accustomed to coming from children “Ewww”. The change in how we perceive the practice suggests that our distaste is perhaps an expression of a psychological barrier rather than a real objection to cannibalism. But, to put to rest the ghost of cannibalism, it must be reiterated that Catholics do not eat the “dead” flesh or drink the “dead” blood of Jesus. Instead, consuming the Eucharist is union with Life itself, which every act of cannibalism so intends but can never be achieved.
7 From Eucharisticum mysterium, Instruction on Eucharistic worship and repeated in GIRM #281:  Holy Communion, considered as a sign, has a more complete form when it is received under both kinds. For under this form (leaving intact the principles of the Council of Trent, 84 by which under either species there is received the true sacrament and Christ whole and entire ), the sign of the Eucharistic banquet appears more perfectly. Moreover, it shows more clearly how the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as it also expresses the relation of the Eucharistic banquet to the eschatological banquet in the Kingdom of the Father (cf. Matt. 26: 27-29). Here complete form refers more to the theological aesthetics than to the “content” of What we are receiving.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Last Sunday, I spoke on the necessity of knowing who Jesus Christ is and not just focusing solely on what Jesus Christ means to us.1 If we lose sight of who He really is—the Son of God—then we may be reduced to running after the God of our making or our meaning; a constant drive to reshape Him according to our measure and our fancy. The imperative, to know who Jesus Christ is, is a necessity because He who is Truth makes a demand on us—a demand which is moral and so prevents us from slipping into a solipsistic existence. At the same time his moral demand reminds us that Man’s existence cannot be organised narrowly along an egocentric principle2. Christ feeding the crowd tells us something about the nature of the multitude. The multitude is not extraneous to our existential condition but is sine qua non for the very possibility that we are individuals.3 An individual who has lost his mooring to the multitude will be cast upon the sea of meaninglessness constantly fishing for meaning.4
Knowing Who He is will ultimately lead to self-discovery5 and at the same time, will enable us to encounter others—they mirror Christ’s image too. The implication for Christians of knowing who Christ is is that we are forced to look closely at His constituted Body, namely, the divinely instituted Church. These few weeks where Christ gives Himself as the Bread of eternal life has led us to take a look at His Body, the Church, the universal sacrament of salvation.
It is not an easy task to look at the Church. Why is that so? We find our answer in the example of Elijah in the 1st Reading: Despair. I wager that like him, humanity is caught in the throes of dark despair. The nation is mired in depression and also in denial. So too Christians and in particular Catholics. Every human institution has failed us and in many ways, spectacularly. Each encounter with failure of an institution weakens the anchor of our trust in the collective whole. When institutional failure is also encountered in the Church, the effect is even more devastating. Many an unsteady faith is shaken by the glaring weakness of an institution that claims herself to be divinely instituted. This is because many do not make the distinction between, on the hand, the Church which, according to Lumen gentium, Christ had given as the universal instrument of salvation for multitude and on the other hand, the people, weak and sinful, who make up the Church. The Church as the universal sacrament of salvation is a powerful statement which many pluralist Catholic theologians struggle to accept. In an age of inclusivism and tolerance, how dare we claim that Jesus Christ saves Buddhists or Muslims? With Catholic theologians even doubting the universality of Christ’s salvation through the Church, our collective despair is compounded even more. Who can really save us? Not even Christ can.
Let me illustrate how far deep despair has eaten into our psyche?
We are told that the national crime rate has fallen. This is presently the boast of the government that it is fulfilling its promises.6 But, my concern is neither the fallen crime rate nor the fulfilment of a morally bankrupt government. My attention is directed to a blessing formulated for a victim of crime and oppression. It goes like this:
Lord God, your own Son was delivered into the hands of the wicked, yet he prayed for his persecutors and overcame hatred with the blood of the cross. Relieve the suffering of N.; grant him/her peace of mind and a renewed faith in your protection and care.
Imagine the instilled fear gathered from the myriad pictured emails of victims of crime. In a time of trauma, the furthest from our collective minds would be two abilities. Firstly, the belief in God’s providential protection. Closer to reality would be the question like “Where were you God when I was being robbed or stabbed”? Secondly, the desire to forgive would be non-existent. Instead of praying to forgive, a victim might wish that the two snatch thieves meet with an accident not life-threatening but render them totally incapacitated.
Why the lack of belief and why the inability to forgive? Our incapacities show us how myopic our horizon of the divine is. We do not really believe the divine anymore let alone fathom His providence. When belief in God fails, what happens is that existential despair will set in.
But consider this: no horizon beyond the temporal implies that we are forever stuck in this world with all scores to be settled before we die. Then Holy Communion might just as well be no more than merely bread. The Holy Communion we receive would be what the Filipinos call, borrowing from their Spanish heritage, “consuelo de bobo”. [Consolation of the stupid]. Nothing more than a pacifier you plug into a baby’s mouth to shut it. Ultimately, Holy Communion is meaningless.
However, the first reading tells us more. Elijah may have been given mere bread, but it kept him alive. In Christ and through His Church, we are promised not mere bread but the Bread of Eternal Life to keep our faith in God. And here, we must make the connexion between Whom we receive and who the Church really is because in many discussions of the topic of the Bread of Life we often forget a very important condition for the possibility of the Bread given to us: Holy Mother the Church.7 As instrument, the Church, by means of the gifts given to her by Christ, her doctrine, laws, and sacraments, makes communion with God possible.8 The Church as the sacrament of Christ makes His work of salvation visible and accessible to human beings.

In conclusion, an involvement with Church, through our apostolates, is not a favour to the Church. Once, when asked to attend a catechetical formation, I heard a Sunday school teacher express this sentiment, “I am already teaching catechism. What more does the parish want from me?” In our local Church context, attending BEC is not an extra-curricular activity. And even our Sunday collection is not an act of generosity. What we do for the Church is constitutive of who we are because it is from her we are fed the sacraments of Christ. Thus, the 2nd Reading makes so much sense. St Paul speaks of imitating Christ and that by being kind and compassionate to each other. We reform our lives, little by little and day by day, so that we do not become a sully to the good name of the Holy Church and in doing so become an effective part of Christ’s mission in the world.
1 It was not preached at any Mass. Written just for the blog.2 In the context of Christ feeding the multitude, the prevalence of world hunger in such a pervasive manner is symptomatic of how egocentric the world has become. We have food more than enough to eat. The point here is not about the sufficient quantity and therefore about the improvement our distribution or cutting our wastage so that there will be enough for simply living. The point is about our “attitude” which is patently self-centred. The irony of an egocentric world is that whilst it purports to compose the individual or to make the individual whole, the effect has actually led to his disintegration. Much of our preoccupation with being whole—cosmetic weight loss programmes or cosmetic augmentations, self-help techniques—has not led to greater happiness. Chasing the self for oneself exclusively can only lead to existential loneliness. This brings us to really ask how we can be whole—through the multitude. Caring, sharing and giving make us whole.3 A good example of the necessity of the multitude for the individual is expressed by someone who says “I don’t need anyone”. A person who does not need anyone is, in effect, condemned to silence. To give voice to the statement “I don’t need anyone” is to commit a performative contradiction because the speech contradicts the intent. Just saying I do not need anyone is already saying it to someone, thereby nullifying the intent that no one is needed.4 Knowing as an act is always directed to the Truth. To know is to know the Truth. In that sense, meaning is derived from the Truth and not the other way round. Meaning does not always arrive at the Truth. For example, an expression from a popular tune, “If loving you is wrong, then I don’t want to be right”. I was just thinking of this as I was driving and the radio played the song: “Help me make it through the night” by Kris Kristoffersen. The lyric is not explicit but you get the gist. I don't care what's right or wrong, I don't try to understand. Let the devil take tomorrow. Lord, tonight I need a friend. A good context for such lyrics’ expression is an adulterous relationship. Clearly, for someone in an adulterous relationship, even though it is wrong, it is meaningful. Thus, what is meaningful does not always express the Truth unless one defines meaning as embracing also the bad or the wrong. Listen to the song by Debbie Boone “You light up my life”. She says “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right”. Is that not how youths today reason? For many of us, the good or what is right are functions of our feelings.5 The Word was made flesh. The event describes that Christ came to be one of us. As an event it bears the hallmark temporality. It took place in time. But, creation was made through Him and was therefore made in His image and likeness. It is by contemplating Him that we discover who we are. We should model Him and not the other way around.6 Never mind that governance by its very definition means that the country is under the rule of law. The audacity to claim that crime rate has fallen is thoroughly an embarrassment. The fact is crime rate in a functioning democracy should always be low!!7 The wording of the Orates fratres is changed only by one word: Holy. The small change makes a world of a difference in our perception and appreciation of who the Church is: the ever Holy Bride of Christ our Lord.8 Therefore she is not just “structure” divided between “hierarchy” (therefore oppressor) and “laity” (therefore oppressed). She is also mission, sacraments and prayer. According to Pope Benedict, “Too many have become obsessed with changing church structures, patterns of ministry and the like, so that Church itself becomes of secondary importance. Ecclesiology becomes bogged down in a “battle about machinery”. The “real problem”, however, is the “crisis of faith”. The problem is not between hierarchy and laity. The problem arises when many, Bishops, priests and theologians, seeks to turn away from the Church’s theological attributes towards its political ones, whereby sociological theory dictates ecclesial organisation and the sacramental principle is replaced by ‘democratic control’. The Church is ontologically sacramental in nature and onlyconsequently hierarchical. Therefore, the hierarchy’s function is to serve the ontological nature of the Church. Forgetting this, we will be side-tracked to squabble about how the Church is to be organised or ignoring this, we will be tempted to focus merely on “mission”.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Last week, the suggested military motif in the Gospel gave us a chance to reflect on what it meant for the Church on earth to be classified as “militant”. Whilst the word “militant” might sound politically incorrect, we explored the idea of militancy in the context of Christ’s mission and the conclusion we drew was that the term Church Militant aptly described Christians in the world, for we have been and still are engaged in the crucial struggles of our time, a struggle characterised by Evil attempting to distract Man’s search for Him Who is Truth, Beauty and Good.
This Sunday’s Gospel reveals an on-going demand for nutrition that the crowd had of Christ. Away from their military ambition for Christ, the people on seeing what Jesus could do, would not let up in their pursuit, if not to make Him King, as least, to be someone who could on a whim conjure up a feast to satisfy the pangs of hunger. This subsistent demand on Christ brings us face to face with the question of who Jesus Christ really is. How do we perceive Him and what are the implications of our perception.
Firstly, our perception of reality is perhaps much more complicated simply because we are no longer at “home” with reality. Prior to the advent of modernity, Western Philosophy simply accepted that the mind could know reality as it is. In other words, physics [ie, science] and metaphysics [ie religion and that which cannot be proven scientifically] co-existed. But, the advent of modernity made the process of knowing more complicated meaning that what cannot be proven scientifically, for example, religious, was relegated to the personal, the superstitious and the unknowable. Even in the area of science’s expertise a thing could be “known” via our theories, hypotheses or models. Or, a thing we knew could also be merely our sense impressions, according to Hume and causality was explained as a connexion of what we have been accustomed to seeing of events flowing from to another. The complication brought about by modernity was located within the process of knowing. Thus, instead of knowing a thing in itself, we began a transforming migration towards what a thing could mean for us. It was an inevitable shift and in summary, because we could no longer know the thing in itself, we began to understand reality in its relation to us. Galileo did not just inaugurate the shift from geocentricism to heliocentricism, Descartes also initiated the paradigm shift from our focus on the object to the preoccupation with the subject. Thus, the question of who Jesus Christ was (objectively), had become the question of who Jesus Christ was to us (subjectively).
This shift was quite utilitarian in its expression, much like the crowds’ intent for Jesus. But, the truth is, we are by and large utilitarian and therefore meaning does play a great emphasis in the way we understand reality. And today the crowd in the Gospel is led to understand who Jesus is rather than what Jesus can do for them.1
Like the crowd, we are challenged to rethink that meaning is not the ultimate focus of life. For if it were, then we need to explain why a world organised along the line of meaningful existence has left trail of “empty” destruction. In the face of a formidable might to create meaning, why are we still so empty and shallow? Meaning must draw its reference not only from us but from reality itself.
Today the reality that confronts us is Jesus Christ. In the multiplication of the loaves and fish, our attention is directed not only to the nutrition we consume but to the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist we celebrate. The transubstantiation is only possible, not by science but by His power as God. Is He really God or do we just consider Him meaningful in our lives? Let me clarify that Who He is and what He means are not mutually exclusive but, sadly, the prevailing wisdom about Jesus Christ is that He can be anything except God. He scores better as a superstar. He teaches better as a guru. He saves better as a liberator. In all things, He is no better than an exemplar, the best of all human beings, the most capable of all teachers and perhaps the most competent deliverer.
The man who fed the crowd is God, no less. Acknowledging Who He is has life-changing implications. We cling to Him not only because He is meaningful but because He is life. Make no mistake that the world is not saved by meaning. The “meaningful” lives of many rich and famous and many of us are nothing but vacuous and that hollow which we want fill with adventures and fun and consumption can only be filled and satisfied by the truth who is Jesus Christ. Ultimately, who Jesus is will lead to what Jesus can do for us and how much He means to us. What begins with every human search for meaning must lead to a search for God Himself. On His part, He answers our search giving us what truly will satisfy: the Bread of Life, the Bread of Eternal Life.
1 Meaning is a crucial component in our interaction with reality. In fact, modernity, by and large, is organised according to this one simple principle that whatever we encounter, it has to be meaningful. And meaning is often reduced to merely the palpable surge of elation we feel. A good example of how much meaning is central to our experience is the abhorrence for rituals as repetitive and therefore meaningless. Youths often lament how meaningless Mass is to them because they do not experience any palpable pleasing sensation that Catholic rituals as such do not evoke. On another matter, Catholic rituals have become “dead” and therefore unable to reach out to us because we have subjected rituals to the dictates of the “mind”—that they have to be understood in order to be meaningful. It is an emasculation of the power of rituals to give meaning.