Monday, 19 November 2018

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2018

The focus on eschatology—the signs and studies of the end of the world— continues today, the penultimate Sunday of the year. And the readings spread before us the reality of the four last things—death, judgement, heaven and hell. The First Reading paints the scenario which can be described as the day of reckoning or of judgement. When the world ends, we will be surrounded by crises, calamities and catastrophes. St Michael will come and rising from the dead, those who are virtuous will be vaulted like shining stars whereas those who are sinful will be shamed into eternal disgrace. The Gospel encourages believers to make preparations for such a time when judgement is called forth.

How do we conceive of the last things such as judgement with the consequences of heaven or hell? To be honest, nobody really talks about it. If at all, death seems like a sinister stranger standing in the shadow—much like the stalker biding his time before striking. We try not to think about it. Or if we do, then our idea of eternity is also shrouded in a cloudy haze. We cannot imagine heaven given that the pleasure we derive from our comfort is out of this world. Like our food—we frequently hear people saying, “It’s out of this world”.

Perhaps Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey’s One Sweet Day lends itself to this mistaken notion that upon death, all will deserve heaven. “And I know you shining down on me from heaven, like so many friends we’ve lost along the way. And I know eventually we’ll be in heaven. One sweet day...” It explains the lack of urgency evidenced by the feeling that we have nothing to lose. After all, one sweet day, we will be in heaven. Whatever that may be.

Now, no one is predestined to hell meaning that God does not create someone to say “You go to hell”.  But, the contrary is not true, that is, that no one is, willy nilly, assured of heaven. What is true is that we are promised the possibility of heaven and that possibility is not premised on the heresy that all of us will end up in heaven.

This automatic passage to heaven rhymes with the current conception of a God who is merciful—a loving God whose mercy knows no bound. He wants to save all. However, the Institution Narrative of our Eucharistic Prayers begs to differ. The salvific will of God, even though universal, must respect human freedom. Hence the “the blood of the new covenant which will be poured out for you and for many” is not poured out for ALL. “Many” sounds stingy and rather unmerciful.

Nevertheless, the truth remains that blood of Christ will save many because some might not want to be saved. God’s mercy is always tempered by justice which means that whilst He is merciful, He is also just in a manner which respects our freedom to choose. As St Augustine pointed out: The God who created us without our permission cannot save us without our permission. Only when we presume that God’s mercy is indulgent, then, there is no need for purgatory since everyone goes to heaven, anyway.

Purgatory is not a place but rather it is a process which accords with God’s mercy and justice. Since we necessarily move in time and space, we often characterise purgatory in terms which are both spatial and chronological. It is spatial when we conceive of it as half-way place between heaven and hell. Those of us who are older, do you remember the admonition not to steal? I remember as a child, my aunty used to tell me that to steal one cent is to deserve a year in purgatory. That is chronological. For all we know a person who dies is immediately purged of sins and is already in the presence of God. However, we cannot presume and, sadly, in the presumed absence of particular judgement and the possibility of hell, we fill the void with eulogies that frequently border on canonisation. And this is the kicker—the richer you are, the more you can be eulogised. Poor people, they do not really need it. An injustice is committed when a priest dies. We tell our people that there should not be eulogy given but when there is a funeral for a priest, the exception is made. Are we not all equal before God, priest or laity, rich or poor?

The appropriate response to the true mercy of God is trust not presumption. God’s justice allows for the possibility of Hell because there cannot be mercy without repentance and renunciation of sin. Just a note aside, we are hung up on mercy, for example, for the couples who are in irregular unions that they should be allowed to receive Holy Communion. What about justice for the couples who through thick and thin stayed together because of the vows they had taken. They never gave up on each other. The message we send out is this: “Well, you were stupid. You could have gotten what they are getting now. Perhaps we should not even be bothered to be good. After all, we will still go to heaven, one sweet day! We cannot presume that God is always merciful.

This explains why we pray for souls in purgatory. Those who died in the friendship of God and yet are tainted by the effects sin, not the kind that refuses God’s forgiveness, we need to keep them in prayer because they are in no position to do any good for themselves. And for ourselves, purgatory and hell become the kind of contrition, imperfect though it may be, that helps us to get to heaven faster. “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell”. Even though, this fear of punishment as a deterrence for sin is imperfect, still it does the job of keeping us in the straight and narrow so that we can go to heaven. However, it is perfect contrition which gives coherence of these last four things. “But most of all because they offend You, my God, Who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life”.

Thus, it is the love of God that impels us to return love for love—in a manner of speaking, to go even beyond the last things. Heaven is good and we ought to desire it. But, it is most of all, the desire is to be united with God that should be the goal of our earthly existence. The four last things actually fit in with the month of November’s two foci—the souls of the faithful departed as well as the celebration of saints. Firstly, the souls need our prayers to assist them along the way to heaven. Secondly, the saints are our examples shining in heaven and urging us on and never to give up. Finally, do you know why our Churches should be tall edifices? If you follow Buzz Lightyear of Toy Story, tall space gives us a sense of “the infinity and beyond”. Even though heaven is not a place, looking upwards gives us a glimpse of our destiny. Let us peer into eternity and let God’s love impel us upwards so that we are not weighed down by our sin. As Leon Bloy, a French poet, says, “There is only one sadness in life—not being a saint”.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2018

A couple of years ago, I was in an Air Asia flight. We were still on the ground and as the aircraft pushed back to take off, there was a loud bang resulting in the plane plunging into darkness. With smoke bellowing from one of the engines, all pandemonium needed was someone to shout, “Fire”. None of the emergency exits was deployed but that did not stop the mad scrambling to nowhere. I sat stunned not because I did not want to live but rather I was astounded by an unalloyed display of the human instinct for self-preservation. It was surreal but I guess I can imagine the cabin chaos prior to the ill-fated Lion Air JT610 plummeting into the sea.

Today we get two radical portraits of the opposite—a total disregard for self-preservation. Both the widows at Zeraphath and in the Gospel of Mark were knocking at death’s door and yet, one thought not of herself nor of her son but the Prophet Elijah’s need, which to me, came across as entitled and the other, who without second thoughts, put all she had into the collection. They invite us to reflect on the grace of generosity, its relation to material possession and how to sublimate our need for self-preservation.

Firstly, there is a category called the poor. A common conception that the poor are so because of laziness or that they lack of initiative. This is especially for those who pride themselves as having a work ethics. If you come across a young and healthy man begging, your first thought could be: “got hands and feet, why not work”? There could be myriad reasons for not working but for Jesus, the presence of the poor was a condemnation of a system that gave rise to them. His society was so structured that some are fated to remain destitute—especially the widows, the orphans and the poor. If that system is alien to us perhaps a modern example might help. When a priest falls sick, do you think he will be admitted to the 3rd class ward of Sultan Aminah Hospital? By the very fact that he is a priest, he is already accorded better access to health care. The usual rationale “Oh we need our priest to be healthy to serve us” may be true but still it betrays an arrangement that that values a class over another. Some are more valued over others. It is fact that those who have more have better access than those who are poor. This leads me to the second point.

When we moralise about wealth, the line is pretty thin. We are often not far from envy. What we do not like about the rich may masks a resentment because we have no access (avenue) to their excesses (extravagances). How we wish we could live like them—signing contracts worth millions or sailing on a RM1B yacht surrounding by the rich, famous and the voluptuous—chuffing champagne and cramming down caviar canapés. Maybe not in that way but you get the gist. We have been simply seduced by suggestions that an opulent lifestyle is preferable to the penury of abject poverty. It is better to be full than to be hungry. The question is how to be full in a way in preserves our human dignity and this brings me to the third point.

There has to be a better to think about wealth than not having it. Meaning that the issue is not “to have or not to have” or that for salvation, poverty is preferable to riches. We take our cue from the Apostles’ Creed. I believe in the Communion of Saints. This communion helps us to appreciate that wealth in itself is not a bad thing, that its roots is communal rather than individual. It is less an indicator of personal possession because its connexion is communal as suggested by the word: commonwealth. We witness this in the early Church where the community pooled everything they had and they shared it amongst themselves in such a way that no one was ever in want of what they needed. 

The concept of pooling everything together may be an ideal that can work if the community were small enough but it becomes unwieldy when the community becomes larger. However, the principle behind it remains—that the ability to share what we have is founded on the idea that God is Provident. God does not only provide; He provides abundantly as evidenced by Elijah’s encounter with the widow of Zarephath. Furthermore, it also directs our attention to the proper meaning of wealth, that all we possess is never ours. We are merely stewards of God’s providence. As finance chief in my previous parish rightly put it, “Father, money is not yours unless you spend it”. And spent I did.

The notion of common good is based on God’s overarching providence for humanity. Common good suggests that what each of us has is not truly ours. Instead, what we have is part of God’s Providence and we are merely custodians of God’s patrimony. If we blessed with more, some might take it as a measure of wealth, but the truth is, when we are given more, we are actually entrusted with a heavier responsibility. Riches are given not for us to spend in any which way we like even though many of us do but for us to take care of those who for some reasons or other cannot take care of themselves.

I once had a conversation with super intelligent young man, an MIT candidate. Told him that once he has achieved the pinnacle of success to come back and help our country develop. It is true that his skin colour might not be the “kulification” the country cared for. Anyway, point blank he answered me, “No way”. I countered, “Your intelligence is God’s gift to you to be used for a greater purpose, that is, of helping others who are not as gifted as you are”. He response: “That is their problem”.

Riches (or gifts) do not grant the wealthy a divine right to their usage because they are only means to an end. As St Teresa of Avila, quite wisely pointed that out, “Money may be the devil’s excreta, but it is certainly a good fertiliser”. Picture what the Book of Wisdom says: “The mighty shall be mightily put to the test. For the Ruler of all shows no partiality, nor does He fear greatness. Because He Himself made the great as well as the small and provides for all alike but for those in power a rigorous scrutiny impends” (Wis 6: 6-8). The rich will be judged not by their riches but by how they use it in the service of the Lord.

This changes the landscape of wealth. We generate more not because we want to accumulate but so that more can be shared. Catholicism or Christianity is compatible with wealth and it ties in with the Communion of Saints. According to the Catechism, “Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others... We must therefore believe that there exists a communion of goods in the Church. As this Church is governed by one and the same Spirit, all the good she has received necessarily become a common fund”. St Augustine spoke of the challenge posed by wealth that people who are rich are sometimes more disgusted by a bad house than by a bad life. What was he saying? It is as if a man’s priority is to have all his possessions good except himself. Wealth is to make us better people—generous, kinder and more loving—but if our possessions turn us selfish, cruel and hateful, then we are better off without them.

To conclude, “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth” is a quote attributed to a spiritual daughter of Teresa of Avila, who is none other than St Therese de Lisieux. Perhaps we could take a leaf from her and tell ourselves that instead of waiting for heaven, we should spend ourselves here on earth doing good for heaven. We do not need to wait for heaven to do good. We do good with what we have in order that we might gain heaven. This means that one ought to, in the generation of wealth, do it in an ethical manner. And in the process, not forget that there are those who might need our help. To do good is beneficial to the soul. Try it and you know what I mean. If only we can build into our ecosystem, a way of allowing the beneficiary of charity to engage in acts of charity themselves—that becomes a way of paying forward. This brings me to the final point: self-preservation.
All of us, without exception, want to live as I pointed out last week. We are not interested in merely existing, we want to live fully and forever. In general, we will do all within our capacity to preserve life and that is a good thing. But along the way, some of us may have forgotten that to live forever, like the grain, we must die to ourselves. The greatest proof of the fullness of life is not holding on to it. It is in the giving that one will receive the fullness of life; it is in the dying that one will live forever. Unless a grain falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain. Remember, a candle is only useful when it is fully burnt. It is useless otherwise.

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2018

A quote attributed to St Irenaeus says that the glory of God is man fully alive. Today, in the search for life and liberty, to be fully alive is both a goal of existence and a description of meaning. Modernity expresses its reality in terms of meaningfulness. Ever since the advent of the industrial age, man has been largely reduced to merely a cog in a wheel, he is no more than an automaton in the chain of production. Hence, the struggle for meaning takes on an urgency. Meaning is also no longer define by our vocation but more in who we project ourselves to be and how we express that. Now you understand why tattoos are so prevalent these days. This generation speaks of career development. 40 years staying put in one job is almost criminal—a recipe for obsolescence. In other words, we find ourselves caught in a race to re-invent ourselves so that we can be more relevant. Could that be a reason why we love spontaneity? The lack of definition gives us a free hand to remodel ourselves? Ambiguity or vagueness is an aid to adaptation. Let us not be too committed in case we need to change.

In this search for meaning, in desiring to be fully alive, we carry this spontaneity into our faith. To live fully, one should not be so constrained or circumscribed or simply tied down by rules and procedures. Contrast this spontaneity with today’s Gospel. The Jews have 613 laws in the Torah, of which 365 laws consist of prohibition, “Don’t do this”, leaving 248 of them as prescriptions, “Do this”.

Where is the fun?

It is in the context of a highly regulated life that the encounter between Jesus and the scribe took place. It was not an unpleasant exchange between them as often was the case when the path of Jesus crossed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. It was a sincere desire to know if he had been on the right track that occasioned the question of primacy—which commandment was the greatest. Both the first reading and the Gospel make use of the famous Jewish Shema. Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy (Dt 6) commanded the people to love God with their whole mind, their whole heart and their whole strength. Jesus does the same but built into the Shema; He takes a quote from the book of Leviticus (Lev 19) that the love for God should also flow into the love of one’s neighbour. This love of neighbour is the basis for our golden rule, stated positively—you should love your neighbour as yourself and negatively, do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you.

At the heart of the Shema, “Hear, O Israel”, there is practically nothing spontaneous. In fact, the path is distinctly marked out for us because Judaism and Christianity have more or less distilled this wisdom into their religious observances. Practices on which the three pillars of Judaism stand are to pray, to fast and to give alms. These three devout practices enflesh the two commandments in that praying denotes our relationship with God, fasting points to the self, whereas giving alms suggests the social setting within which we move and interact with others.  

The Shema, that is, the call to love God is established on the etymology of the word obey which is audire, meaning to listen. Thus, to listen to God is to obey His commandments. But, in a rush to put ourselves out there, as in to invent ourselves, we might have lost the ability to hear. We are preoccupied with making sure that we are heard that we no longer cultivate a listening ear. Our social climate is characterised by shouting and to be heard, you need to shout the loudest. Where is truth in this? How can we hear God above the din of our making?

Listening and obeying are at the heart of who we truly are. Why? Firstly, we were called into being by God—from nothing to someone—creatio ex nihilo. Secondly, no matter how faint that call is, our faculty of listening and our ability to obey are attuned to God and His commandments because only in God, can we be truly alive. Have you ever heard of someone who wants to be half alive? Only someone who is not in the right frame of mind would aspire to be half alive! The challenge we face is the notion that we can be most alive if we ignore God’s commandments; as if following God’s commandments will constraint us.

Sadly, since we live in a politically correct world, we are preoccupied with socially engineering a world without God, in which people can, by merely willing, learn to be “nice” to each other forgetting that being nice is actually based on the commandments of God and is a gift from God. The equality or the justice that social engineers are hoping to achieve is one which disregard God’s prescription for the world. A good example is the attempt to redefine marriage. Today, if one were to hold on to the traditional or religious notion of marriage, one can be “judged” as cruel or hard-hearted etc. Another example is concept of freedom as unrestrictedly individual. If one were to speak out against abortion, one will be labelled as curtailing the freedom to choose.

God’s commandments do not enslave us. Au contraire, they free us to be who we have been created to be. Spontaneity may give the illusion that it is a nobler kind of love that one can at the spur of the moment do something great. But, what does it mean to love? How does one love? We love by not killing. We love by not stealing. We love by putting others’ needs before our own. We love by sacrificing our life so that others may live. All these so called acts of love are marked by them limits and boundaries and are often expressed in a prohibitive manner.

If obeying God’s commandments leads to fullness of life, then we will often fall short simply because the counter proposals always suggest that we are better off without God and that we will be freer if we listen to the world’s values. In short, we are sinners when it comes to obedience. We fall, time and again. Hence, the second reading speaks of the sacrifices which sinners must pay for their failure which we are in a way fortunate or rather blessed because we have a High Priest who is able to take upon Himself the sins of our failure. His sacrifice enables us to tread the path intended by God for us. In Him, we have the grace to live God’s commandments.

Man is fully alive only when he is alive in God. This takes us right into the very commandments that God gives us. The obedience to God requires praying—without it, our relationship with God stands on shaky grounds. This is confirmed by Jesus, when asked about certain evil that cannot be exorcised, he stated that these can only be defeated by prayer and fasting. Prayer is our phone line to God which we will always need. On top of that need for God, we cannot, without self-denial, conquer our sinful nature. Human nature has been weakened by sin—and it will always seek the easier path or the path of least resistance. The conquest of self gives us a better chance of hearing God and obeying His commands and it is in this relationship with God and through the conquest of self that we find ourselves free to love our neighbours the way Christ loves each one of us. It is this freedom that allows for us to be the saints the Church will want to canonise for the world. This is the true freedom of being alive in God.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2018

As they say, “The devil is in the detail. The more descriptive an episode is, the more important it is for us to take note. Today, we are given the name of the person healed by Jesus—Bartimaeus. The healing takes place within the final straight for Our Lord as He makes His way from Jericho to Jerusalem, the end of which is most certainly death.

Why is Bartimaeus important to us?

To understand him, we need to go backtrack a little. There are two episodes of blindness that frame this home stretch of Jesus’ life. Just after the revelation that He is the Messiah or the Christ, the first case of blindness presented itself. Jesus healing of the man born blind was done in stages. At first, the blind man saw thing indistinctly—people looked like walking trees—and only after placing His hands over the eye that the blind man began to see clearly. This healing process reflects the understanding of the Disciples. They have come to realise that Jesus is the Messiah but failed to recognise that His leadership involves the sacrifice of His life as a ransom for all. You remember last week, the two brothers aspired to the glory associated with kingship but they have not fully grasped the implication of drinking the chalice of Jesus’ sorrow. In contrast, as a response to faith, Bartimaeus’ healing was straightforward. However, unlike the rich young man’s hesitation, Bartimaeus cast aside his cloak, symbolic of his detachment, to follow Jesus. 

Blindness is definitely more than physical. For most of us, seeing is believing but in the case of Bartimaeus, believing is seeing who Jesus is. As the Little Prince said, ”And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”. In fact, the Gospel readings in the last couple of weeks have all been lined up to help us appreciate the finer details of discipleship—details that are often invisible to the eye. How to be great? It is to be a servant or even to be a slave. How to be first? It is to be last. How to find ourselves? It is to lose ourselves. How to accumulate more? It is to give away more.

These are just some paradoxes that throws a spanner into our status quo. Everywhere we go, we are told that to be the best or to be at top of the pile, you require prestige, you flaunt your wealth or you need sex appeal. Like Bartimaeus, all these shout out at us, drowning our little voice that cries out to God for help.

Indeed, this road to conversion is long and takes time. It would be such a wonderful blessing if we can be like Bartimaeus that the more the world tries to bully us into succumbing to its snares—of lust, power and possession—the more we shout, like Bartimaeus, to God for assistance. But, I think many of us are more like the first man born blind. We can see but not clearly. We know of God but hardly do we know God. We follow Him but almost reluctantly and only to look out for the advantages that comes from following Him.
Whether we know it or not, many of us do buy into Peter’s idea that the Messiahship of Jesus is glory without the Cross. We think of God in terms of prosperity blessing. But, without the Cross it is impossible to understand who Jesus truly is and what it means to follow Him. It is akin spending with a credit card. The pain of payment comes later and even then we can further postpone the pain by transferring our credit balance to another bank. The point is this—we all want the glory without the sacrifice. Hence, just as the Disciples needed to see more clearly, we need to be converted to Calvary before we can reach the summit of the Resurrection.

Why is that hard to be Bartimaeus? One of the most difficult aspects of conversion to discipleship today is telling truth in an age of political correctness. It is with reasons that the current generation is labelled either as snowflake or strawberry—easily bruised and incapable of tough working conditions. They are raised in ways that give them an inflated sense of uniqueness and are therefore entitled. Whether we recognise it or not, the age of entitlement when wrapped with the cloak of victimhood, makes for a lethal combination to faith and its response in discipleship. Now, ever since Adam blamed Eve, society has always needed a safety valve of blame to deal with its imperfection, caused by sin, no doubt. The safety valve is found through blaming and the most convenient targets are those considered less than normal the less than normal—the lame, the blind, the weak or anyone who is abnormal—they are convenient scapegoats for society’s ills. Blame them when things go awry. We do it all the time. There are lot of break-ins in our housing estate. Must be the Indonesians or Banglas.

Christianity changed that when Jesus Himself became the Victim, the one who took upon Himself the sins of the world. His acceptance of the poor, the widow and the orphans drew them into the circle of normal. However, what has happened is that it has become fashionable to be a victim but not for altruistic or noble reasons. Instead, victimhood is worn as a badge of honour that has allowed the victim to victimise other. How? When you have difficulties dealing with a multinational, one of the most effective weapons in your hands is to publish publicly your experience and blame it on any one of “isms”, racism or the racist policies of the multinational and that will often shame the entity to retreat and concession.

The problem with this kind of victimhood is, if something were to go wrong, it is no longer the Cross that we have to bear but rather, someone is to be blamed. Why is God like that? How come I have to suffer? Or blame the parents. I am a killer because my parents did not hug me enough. Furthermore, this ignoble kind of victimhood makes for discomfort if one does not recognise, sympathise, tolerate and finally embrace the cause of solving the victim’s problems. One will be accused of heartlessness. Suckers that we are, we fall easily for the victim underdog. Just look at how Najib is now presented by his daughter, as a man wronged by an ungrateful country. The nation is made to feel guilty for its ingratitude. No one likes to be accused of being ungrateful and definitely, with him being a victim, that is bound to tug a few heart-strings. Poor thing. How can?
I have no beef with Najib but what implication will this debilitating form of victimhood have for discipleship? If we are perpetual victims, always wronged and unjustly treated, what does it mean to follow Christ? All we need is a little suffering and we cave into self-pity. Why? We have been victimised.

Christians are not that kind of self-pitying victims, even though we might be victimised, persecuted, done to or even killed. Instead, the Catholic Mass is locus where, when we offer up the Victim, the only perfect sacrifice acceptable to the Father, each one of us, unite our suffering with Him. His Cross is the only one that makes sense in this world damaged by sin. The Cross makes our sacrifices worthwhile and gives meaning to our discipleship. When Christ redeemed us through His sacrifice on the Cross, He did not come to banish pain and suffering but He transformed them into motives of virtues and occasions of merit so that if we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him. The Cross makes it possible to follow Him, like Bartimaeus and later the Eleven, through thick and thin, even when we pay with our lives. As Maximillian Kolbe reminds us, “Let us remember that love lives through sacrifice and is nourished by giving. Without sacrifice there is no love”. Without the Cross, we may languish in victimhood and will be no more than just fair-weathered disciples.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2018

Apart from hormonal imbalance, why do you think some of us are getting rounder? Or that obesity is increasingly considered a major health issue? One of the reasons could be that the labour expended is inversely proportionate to our food intake. We eat more than what is needed for work. In other words, instead of eating to live, our philosophy, if food blogging were an indication, is living to eat.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying food because consumption belongs to the triple pursuit of happiness. We are socialised into believing that a person’s well-being is heightened by pleasure, accentuated by possession and increased by power. We are all hard-wired to choose behaviours that will increase the secretion of dopamine—the feel good hormone that the more we have of it, the more we crave. When we call someone greedy, it sounds like a dirty word but a person is greedy only because he is seeking more than the usual quota of pleasure that comes from consumption or the accumulation of wealth or the possession of the agency to control people and things. When one is able to control others, there is always a sense of triumph and achievement.

In his Gospel, Mark was rather unflattering in his reporting. In contrast, Matthew would have the mother making the request, placing the “guilt” on the mother. Whereas Mark has the two brothers shamelessly asking the Lord. The others were indignant on account of these two’s brazenness, but one should appreciate the depth of their intuition. Jesus was not the kind of King all decked up in fineries. At His crucifixion, He had only the tunic He wore and here were two brother who seemed to see beyond the physical that they were speaking to Someone more than the ordinary. In a way, they were pretty clued-in in their search for happiness and were not merely greedy for power. Still, sadly though, they equated happiness with greater power.

This happiness we seek is over-rated. Where we have come to believe that happiness is the only measure of our well-being, Jesus turned that upside down. He challenged the two brother, “Really, you think that great power is the answer to life’s happiness? Let me tell you that to serve rather than be served is a surer guarantee of true happiness”.

The path to joy and true happiness is radically counter-intuitive and can be gleaned from the three temptations that Jesus went through. He was tempted to pleasure by turning stones into bread, tempted to possession by the worship of a false god and tempted to power by putting God to the test. Therefore, when a religious priest, brother or sister embraces the three evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, he or she does it because the vows are antidotes to the disordered desires for pleasure, possession and power. Chastity stands against a culture that is hedonistic in its pursuit of pleasure by insisting on the principle that pleasure serves a purpose and not otherwise. Our purpose in life is not the fulfilment of pleasures we seek but rather that our pleasure must serve a purpose that is beyond this world. Poverty voluntarily chooses a life of simplicity and detachment contrary to a life of crass accumulation and avaricious possession. Finally, obedience subjugates pride and transforms power into a life service and a willingness to accept suffering even to the point of paying with one’s life. The power of Jesus is shown through His suffering on behalf of and as a ransom for us, poor sinners.

Today is Mission Sunday. Why do we celebrate it? It is one Sunday in a year the Church as a whole comes together in support of mission. We tend to forget that the Church by nature is missionary. Thus, she has a duty to proclaim Christ to the world. However, we inhabit a world aptly described by a French novelist, Gustave Flaubert as “There is no Truth, there is only perception”.  But, we know better because Jesus Himself assured us that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Hence, if we are to be faithful to Christ, our mission is to preach beyond the choir; mission is not limited ad intra because ad extra—a world out there is waiting for the grace of the Gospel.

But who is to bring the Jesus the Truth to them? When James and John jostled for the positions of power, Jesus promised them not exaltation but the certainty of suffering. The missionary endeavour of the Church is steeped in soil saturated with the blood of martyrs who have laid down their live for Jesus Christ and His Church. I have just come back from the Camino Santiago—the same Saint James who asked to sit next to Jesus is also the one who laid down his life for Christ. But, what is at the top of most our minds is probably an unspoken assumption that the mission ad gentes has to do with numbers, that is, mission’s purpose is to increase the size of the Church. The true motivation of our missionary activity is not size but rather to share the joy of knowing Jesus Christ. Sometimes that may end with the shedding of blood.

But, we are afraid of losing our lives and in a country as diverse as this, we naturally favour dialogue because it appears to be an easier option. However, inter-religious dialogue is no substitute for mission. It would be foolish to think that in the interest of harmony coupled with the fear of upsetting people, we should tone down what we consider to be true because faith to be credible must be founded on truth. Otherwise, why believe? The faculty of believing is such that it believes in the truth (even if what it believes in is false). Journalists are supposedly witnesses to truth because they are always on a mission to uncover the truth for without truth, everything becomes uncertain. And, sanity does not fare well in uncertainty. Our stock-market is the best exemplar of this human fear of uncertainty. As soon as there is ambiguity, the market turns jittery. But, if there is truth, it is also of human nature to shout it out. Have you ever heard of a researcher who after a scientific discovery keeps quiet about it? No, in fact, he will do his very best to make sure that the world knows of his discovery.

Believing is always of the Truth and the Truth must make itself known. This is why the Church is missionary by nature. As Benedict XVI said, “Some religions, particularly ‘tribal religions’ are waiting for the encounter with Jesus Christ but the encounter is always reciprocal. Christ is also waiting for their history, their wisdom, their vision of the things. We proclaim Jesus Christ not to procure as many members as possible for our community, and still less in order to gain power. We speak of Him because we feel the duty to transmit that joy which has been given to us." In that case, Pope Francis was right. His first encyclical was called “Evangelium gaudium”—the Joy of the Gospel. St Teresa used to pray, “Lord, save us from dour-looking saints” and so, our first step to credibility is to make sure that we walk out into the world radiating the joy that comes from believing in Jesus Christ. It does not mean that when we believe, everything will be fine—everything will be hunky dory as they say but that in spite of everything that afflicts us, nothing can take away the certainty and joy we have that Jesus is the only Way, the Truth and the Life.