Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Christ the King Year C 2019

Habermas, a German philosopher, said something to the effect that systems, especially political or economic, take on a life of their own and they will cannibalise whatever they can in order to survive. We have witnessed this in totalitarian systems. For example, Communism literally “devoured” its young to perpetuate itself. Red Sparrow, the movie starring Jennifer Lawrence is one good example. Black Widow of the Marvel series is another example as she was the product of a self-absorbed state[1]. It just means that the system no longer serves man but instead the art of statecraft goes, he is sacrificed at the altar of political expediency or in a command economy, he is sold at the market of supply and demand. Today, as we celebrate the Kingship of Christ, it might be good to reflect on the meaning of His reign or His rule both in heaven and on earth. In relation to His sovereignty, what role do the governmental or economic systems play in the Kingdom of Christ?
In the arena of politics, this idea of kingship is not alien to us living as we are under a monarchy. Some praise our unique arrangement because we have a paramount ruler within a rotational system. He is King of a federation, voted in by the individual sovereigns from the states that have hereditary rulers. Lest I be accused of lèse-majesté, let me categorically state that, on the whole, the history of the monarchy here and elsewhere leaves much to be desired. King David may have been an exception as we heard in the first reading. He was in every sense of the word, a regent, a man who acted for God. He was described in the Book Samuel (1 Sam 13: 14) and quoted in the Acts (Acts 13:22) as a man after God’s own heart. But even he stumbled in his later years when, consumed with lust, he murdered Uriah, his general, so as to commit adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. The sins of his royal loins were like scarlet and red as crimson.

One can safely surmise that our experience with earthly royalty is at best patchy or spotty. There have been saintly rulers in Christendom, both kings and queens—Edward the Confessor of England, Louis the Pious of France, Margaret of Scotland, Elisabeth of Hungary and Elizabeth of Portugal. But by and large, royalty is just another word for excesses, honour, privilege and being entitled. And in many cases, corrupt and depraved.

The Gospel for Year C is profoundly interesting. Here we are introduced to an unexpected notion of kingship—a concept that shatters our received wisdom.

This is a King who hangs unglamorously on a Cross in the unsavoury company of two thieves. Yet, He is King as indicated in the 2nd Reading. For by virtue of His sonship, the Incarnate Son of God is King because He is the very image of the Invisible God. As the Credo proclaims, begotten from the Father from eternity, He is King by right. But, hanging repulsively on the Cross, He is also King by virtue of our redemption. If according to our profession of faith, the Credo, He is King by right, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, then in the Gospel, stretched on the Cross, He is King by conquest. By His wounds we have been healed. By His death, the gates of heaven are thrown open for the children of Adam and Eve to enter. Either way, on the throne or on the Cross, He is our King.

How should Christ be King? Is He supposed to be a King in a spiritual sense only? We have established that by right, yes, but by conquest, no. Hence, He must be King in every sense of the words, spiritual and temporal for nothing in life is outside the purview of His rule.

Our major challenge is we have accustomed to living compartmentalised lives—a bit schizophrenic if you like. Science has done a great job at excluding religion from the public realm. Religion as a public expression has been reduced to a private encounter. So, on the one hand, it is easy to imagine the reign of Christ using the terminology of spirituality. As a spiritual King, He established on earth the Church and through a hierarchical system, He rules as head of this mystical Body. On the other hand, both the state and the market are domains where religion, since it is a private matter, should not interfere. We witness this in Catholic politicians, especially in the USA, who are proud to publicly declare their religious affiliation while at the same time are quick to insist that their religion is nothing more than a private matter. 

However, the word Christendom connotes the idea that Christ’s reign is much more comprehensive and therefore inclusive rather than being restricted to the spiritual realm. The relationship between Church and State cannot be mutually exclusive where the Church is confined to serve our spiritual end whereas the state and the market have a role devoted to the temporal affairs. Supposedly, the Church leads us to heaven whilst the state and market provide for the material well-being of the people.

The state and the market do not exist solely to fulfil the material needs of the people but must always have as their goal to provide space for the practice of virtues so that its people can make their way to heaven.

The last King to die in Britain on a battlefield was the Scottish James the IV, from the House of Stuart, who was killed in 1513. In those days, it was an occupational hazard for Kings because they led their army to war and were often the first to fall. This illustration gives us an idea that to rule is to be at the service of the people. The master is first and foremost a servant. And hence, whatever system we can devise, it must be our servant rather than our master because it serves to assist us in our pilgrim journey to heaven. Christ, our Lord and Saviour, stretched on the Cross, our King, ruled through His service, giving up His life so that we might gain eternity.
We all know that Christendom no longer exist and whatever vestiges of it, many of the Christian nations are doing their best to eradicate their Christian past. In some Christian countries, the civil authority is opposed to religion especially to Christianity, the very foundation of its civilisation. Hence, where Christ cannot be King, it is left to His soldiers. We are called Church Militant for a good reason. We have a task at hand which, is to make Christ known, if not through our words, then through our actions. Let the world know that Christ is King through each one of us.

As the preface rightly reminds us, “…as eternal Priest and King of all creation, He offered Himself on the altar of the Cross, as a spotless sacrifice to bring man peace, so that He might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption, and making all created things subject to His rule, He might present to the immensity of His Father’s majesty, an eternal and universal Kingdom, a Kingdom of truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a Kingdom of justice, love and peace”.

It does not matter whichever systems we are inserted into; the task remains the same—that Christ be known and love. Hence, let us all be the soldiers Christ our King can be proud of. We have a heavy responsibility, and may the Lord bless us all.

[1] When a state, under the guise of providing relief, removes a child at the age of 3, from the care of its principal providers (parents), that is a good example of a nanny system that cannibalises its young. The child will be indoctrinated with state or rather the most current philosophy, thus perpetuating the state’s survival.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019

A few of you might be upset if this Cathedral were to be destroyed. I suspect that the disquiet or distress might arise not from a loss of aesthetics but rather from a loss of familiarity. Many of us are creatures of habit. Wittingly or unwittingly, the older we are, the more we tend to canonise the status quo. So ugly or otherwise, this structure is meaningful to some of us. We are at home here. Thus, to flippantly declare that this building is fit for demolition might create anxiety amongst parishioners.

If the destruction of a hideous building such as this could evoke that angst of disquiet, you can imagine how much more the Temple in Jerusalem. It was an awesome edifice, as Jesus Himself acknowledged, one that had taken more than 25 years to build. As He prophesied the destruction of such a magnificent building, the dismay was palpable.

But mayhem was not His point.

The point the Lord was trying to make was how one ought to be ready or to be prepared. As next Sunday is Christ the King, today marks the penultimate Sunday in Ordinary Time. And the readings have so far reflected a concern with the Last Things. One knows that he is approaching the end of the liturgical year because the tone is both eschatological as well as apocalyptical. Eschaton deals with the end of time. When the end is associated with tumultuous events, what provides hope is the apocalyptic tone of the readings. For example, the Gospel encourages those who are persecuted to hold on or to hang on because God will come, as the Responsorial Psalm indicates, to rule the peoples with fairness.

We span the era between the Ascension and the Second Coming. St Paul’s preaching to the Thessalonians consists of how our preparation is supposed to look like. Hard work built on an orderly life—in other words, live a life of virtue. In that way, the end of time will not be a time of ending but rather a stepping-stone to a new beginning. It means that when it comes, we should not be flailing about but rather be ready for it.

Being ready requires that we stand in the light and not hide in the shadow. It is better to live a good life rather than have a good life so that we will not be dragged into death clinging to whatever we have. Instead, we dare walk into death leaving behind all we have in order to appreciate the new life we are called to.

Yet, no one knows when that moment will come. During the reign of Pope Sylvester II, he predicted the end to be at the turn of the first millennium. As you can guess, rioting took place as people were afraid. As recent as 2009, the movie 2012 depicted the calamitous ending of the world with humanity struggling to preserve the good that remains of human civilisation. Nobody can forecast the end, not even our climate change predictions of choking air and rising flood can point to the exact time. This obsession with exactitude may just miss the point that the end will come most likely for each one of us individually before all of us collectively. Sometimes all it takes is to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. A lorry sideswipes your car onto the oncoming traffic and the timber trailer rams head-on into your car and everyone is dead in a split of a second.

If anything can happen, it begs the question if one is ready for anything. This readiness is not preventive as in be careful and be attentive so that you can pre-empt it before it happens. Instead, are you ready to give an account of your life before the Lord? This end time is not meant to scare us but instead to prompt to not neglect that which is most important—the salvation of our souls.

There are three words to consider when reflecting about the end time and our salvation. They are eutopia, utopia and dystopia. First eutopia is what we yearn for, that is, a good place or if you like, a good space to be in. Sadly though, eutopia is utopian in the sense that it does not exist. When St Thomas More penned his political satire, the title of his work was “Utopia” which translated literally meant “nowhere” indicating that “topia” or the place is nothing but a figment of one’s imagination. However, thinking of end-time, what is disturbing is how dystopian our vision of the end is. Our cinematic landscape is tarred with this dystopian future as it taps into our sense of doom, gloom and tomb. Zombieland and Terminator: Dark Fate are two good examples of such a hopeless outlook. It does not inspire but it definitely bogs us down. Salvation is next to useless in such a bleak and tattered future.

Truth is, there is no time in recorded human history which is not marked by trials and tribulations. The sooner we appreciate that troubles are mankind’s lot, the more prepared we might be. The description of the end, even though filled with eschatological trepidation, it is not meant to lead us into dystopian despair. Furthermore, prophecy does not make sense if there is no viable future. It only makes us stop living. If we stop living, even if we are breathing, we are as good as dead. However, when the future is filled with the infinite possibility of God’s presence, prophecy is salvific and redemptive.

We need not wait for a turn of the century for catastrophes or calamities to strike us. We always have them with us. Hence, what we need is not despair but hope. As creation groans and longs for its salvation, we place our hope that God will save us. Whilst the eschaton may be fear provoking, the apocalypse is definitely hope evoking. We should not be afraid as the Gospel suggests but instead trust that the Lord will come to our assistance, even if we are weighed down by the turmoil of our time. As we inch toward the Kingship of Christ, we trust Him that not a hair of our head will be lost. Without hope, we cannot endure. Only endurance can win us our lives. As God is trustworthy, the end of time is always an occasion of hope. Let us bless the Lord.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019

Apparently, pop-culture runs along a 30-year cycle which may explain the reappearance of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and the Lion King and of course, a slew of remakes and reboots. Ironically, in a hungry techno-verse, it is nostalgia and not novelty that churns out money. So, if you take note, many of these remakes, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spiderman or the DC Universe Superman, have to have the mandatory post-credit inserts set up to introduce possible sequels. Perhaps the emergence of this repetitive remakes is indicative of something which is missing in our lives, something which happily is provided by the Gospel.
In a realm where life basically terminates here, post-credits serve as a way of continuing a story. For, if everything were to end with death, what meaning does this life really have? Especially for those whose lives amount to nothing. The losers or the ne’er-do-wells? There is silent killer which plagues our youths and it is suicide, a symptom of our hopelessness. Hence, post-credits serve as a vista or a window into a possible future. The readings today, especially the first and the Gospel, offer that kind of an opening because they contain within them the seed of continuity.

The beauty of the Maccabees is to be found in its scriptural support for the Catholic teaching on purgatory as well as a proof that beyond this life there is continuation. However, this extension is dependent on what happens in this life. For this reason, those young men, urged on by their mother, dared to lay down their lives in order to gain the reward of their faith. The description of the reward is the matter of contention which we hear in the Gospel. Sadly, there exists a divide between the Pharisees and the Sadducees when it comes to the doctrine of the resurrection—one group believes in it and the other does not. The opposing Sadducees set up an impossible scenario to counter this belief. What happens if a woman predeceases all seven of her husbands and finds herself in heaven? Would she be the wife of all seven brothers? The basic assumption of this scheme is that the risen existence is no more than a repetition or an extension of the life that she had before. In other words, this type of resurrection represents “business as usual”. How boring can that be? It means that if your life is boring, you can look forward to more boring. It is certainly not the heaven we desire.

To understand the truth regarding the resurrection, we might want to revisit the institution of marriage. Marriage serves two purposes—one to unite a couple and the other to procreate—a word with a derogatory connotation of breeding like rabbits. The point is, the institution of marriage fulfils the need for perpetuation and therefore the preservation of the human race—we do want to see ourselves living forever. Implicit in having children is to see us living through them. Thus, in the absence of marriage’s goal of procreation, man is doomed in his existence. Fortunately, in heaven, where life is eternal, the necessity of prolongation or perpetuation does not arise. Hence, marriage is of no use in heaven.

What Jesus did was to explode the concept of life beyond the temporal. Perhaps His own experience is instructive for us. He appeared to them in a locked room and yet He was bodily: “Touch me. You can see that ghosts have no physicality”. In today’s Gospel, Jesus addressed God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob showing us that He is the God of the living, demonstrating that there is continuity though on a different plane of existence.

Today’s readings are almost like a post-credit in our liturgical movie. As the Ordinary Time rolls to its end with the Solemnity of Christ the King, the attention shifts to the last Four Things—namely, death, judgement, heaven and hell. The Maccabees and the Gospel are foretaste of what is to come, that life must and should continue into heaven.

This is basically the premise of must and should in the 2nd Reading. St Paul does not talk about the risen life per se but instead, he shines a spotlight on God’s faithfulness as the reason that we must and should hope. Whatever the shape our lives may take, God’s fidelity is our assurance. He is our hope of life after life.

What may be disturbing in the Maccabean youths is their courage seemed to border on fanaticism. If their torture and execution were made into a movie, the start of film will definitely trigger a warning, “You may find the account of the killing of these youths disturbing”. What is the difference between them and someone flying an aeroplane into a tower and shouting, “God is great”?

An immense canyon if you like. The courage of these young men in walking to their death is precisely that they witnessed to their faith, not by destruction but by affirmation. They were not sceptical about life but rather, they were prepared to give up their lives because of a greater value at stake, that is, eternity. In running the race for eternity, they did not have to destroy others but chose to sacrifice themselves.

In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, we find the themes of redemption and resurrection at play. Sydney Carlton, the alcoholic, selfish and rather self-loathing lawyer is shown to be a true hero because he ended up sacrificing himself for someone who looks like him, Charles Darnay. In his parting speech, Carlton, the Christ-like figure, says, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known”. Martyrdom, by nature, is self-sacrificial. Dying for one’s faith is not equivalent to killing for it. There is no scenario in which killing others to prove one’s faith is acceptable. A martyr ennobles his life by giving it up. He does not ennoble it by the barbarism of murdering others. Crashing an aeroplane into a building and shouting “God is great” is not courage but cowardice, not martyrdom but murder.

Christ and countless of martyrs after Him died with the praise of God on their lips. “Viva Christo Rey” shouted Blessed Miguel Pro as he was shot to death. “Long live Christ the King”. Also, in the footsteps of their Master, they gave up their lives with forgiveness in their hearts—"Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do”. Martyrs, not murderers, remind us that we must continue to defend what is true even though the cost is high and may result in the loss of our own lives. As someone rightly said, “There must be good on earth for which one must be ready to die for”. Today, as we inch towards the closing of the Liturgical Year, we are invited to affirm life as good. However, the challenge is our lack of imagination which may account for our poor estimation of heaven. We cannot imagine beyond what we have here. So, in affirming life as good, our test is how much we are prepared to defend what we believe in, to the point of giving up even a good life because we have before us, a better life which God has promised. We must never lose sight of this truth because giving up something good only makes sense if we are giving it up for something better.