Sunday, 30 August 2020

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020

If you inhabit the multiverse of DCU or MCU meaning the Detective Comics or Marvel Comics Universe, you might be a helpless nobody today but a lionised superpower tomorrow—shooting from zero to hero. Not so for Peter. He shows us that the nature of a climb so meteoric is basically that: ephemeral and momentary. Last week Simon scaled the summit to become Peter—the Rock. Sadly, this week the Rock slipped down the slope of stumbling block to become a “scandal”—literally falling from a hero to a zero. 


The answer is to be found in the turning point of last week’s Gospel. The Apostles, under Peter’s inspiring faith, had discovered that Jesus was no ordinary man. He is the Son of God. Faith may be a gift from God but it is no insurance against misconception. Whilst Peter accepted Jesus to be Son of God, he perceived Him only beneath the light of glory. For a period of time, Israel was a religio-political entity, a theocratic nation where religion and politics were inseparable. So, Peter cannot not be faulted for thinking that the long-awaited Messiah, whom he had found in Jesus, would now rise to take His proper place in the establishment of a new Kingdom.

But, that was just a side of Jesus which He was more than ready to reveal. He brought Peter, James and John up Mount Tabor where He transfigured and manifested His glory to them. But, each time Christ revealed His splendour, He also warned them of His impending Passion. Right after Peter’s Confession, Jesus revealed the full extent of His Messiahship. Our fellowship with Him is our “followship”—we follow Him by carrying our Cross. 

This Easter Vigil, we could not have baptism for obvious reasons. Soon, our few patiently waiting elect will be baptised under stringent social-distancing conditions. Hence, Peter’s experience might be a good reminder for our neophytes after their baptism. Our dear Peter, still groggy from his exalted status thought that being on top was the goal of everything. But Christ had to bring him down to see that the Cross is the glory. I suppose our elect may already sense the outline of the Cross since they have been denied baptism these few uncertain months. 

The cost of following Christ must always include the Cross. This path is not something easily embraced. Like Peter, it is human to want to reshape the Cross to our liking. In the first reading, Jeremiah felt cheated because he was mocked, laughed at, and derided. In a sense, he had thought that his prominence as a prophet should render him some semblance of security. Far from it but ultimately, Jeremiah himself realised that despite his prophetic reluctance, there was a fire he could not put out—his heart wounded by the love of God could contain no other pleasures except that of the Cross. 

What is this Cross we have to carry? One thing we do well is to externalise it. You can say that your sickness is a cross. Or maybe your spouse is THE Cross. You wake up and “Urrgh”, and the face is right in front of you and you are reminded how heavy the Cross is. Or, this pandemic is a scourge, a kind of suffering that we need to undergo. Anything and everything can be our Cross, but the greatest Cross is ourselves and how we carry ourselves through life. It is difficult as we heard in the 2nd Reading where Paul readies us with the advice not to conform ourselves to the standards of the world. When our principles are based on Christ, then the Cross, be it in any shape or form, will be our constant companion. 

Even then, we are all lovers—wounded lovers like Jeremiah. Like him, we will definitely do better if we begin to realise that the love of God is more demanding than what we are ready to embrace and that the road to eternity passes through the valley of mortality beginning with death from self-denial or mortification before ending with physical death. If this pandemic should teach us anything, it is this: there is a no inoculation against death much less a vaccine against suffering. If you want to follow Him, the only available option is to take up your Cross. As Han Urs Balthasar reminds us: “It is to the Cross that the Christian is challenged to follow his Master: no path of redemption can make a detour around it”

Maybe the multiverse of DCU and MCU are not so different after all. A person becomes a hero or heroine once he or she has endured sacrifice and suffering before rising. Spiderman, death of his uncle. Thor, banishment from Asgard. Superman, destruction of Krypton. The Apostles’ Creed states that the Lord Himself descended into hell before ascending into heaven.

In a world that craves salute, stardom and sycophancy, we need reminders that sacrifice, sorrow and suffering are not destructive experiences to be denied, decried or defied. Instead, in the Cross of Christ, one locates the humility of sacrifice, sorrow and suffering. They converge into something which is pivotal to man’s greatest search, that is, his longing for meaning. As Nietzsche reminds us, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering”. So, if you want to follow Him, take up your Cross. It is necessary because there is no salvation of the soul, nor hope of eternal life, except in the Cross. Embracing it might feel like a losing proposition at the start but in the end, you will never lose out. St Paul said, “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Thus, to be a hero or heroine is to be burnished on the wood of the Cross—of sacrifice, sorrow and suffering. Fear not but trust Him for He has conquered Hades.

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020

Today, we arrive at the pivotal turning point of Matthew’s Gospel and the spotlight falls on identity politics. Jesus’ self-definition is essentially relevant to us. Up till now, this wonder worker would have heard plenty about Himself. To raise a dead to life would have elevated His status beyond today’s standard of a celebrated personality. If Despacito could garner 6 billion views on YouTube, Jesus would have no problem amassing billions of subscribers, if not more. Furthermore, clientele such as Mary Magdalene and Zacchaeus surely attract hearsays. And so, to the query about who He is, the Apostles readily echo the “safe” sentiments floating about the marketplace of salacious gossips and racy rumours. John the Baptist? Elijah? Jeremiah or one of the Prophets?


We all recognise that there is a “safe” way of answering a question without committing oneself. One does it by raising the tone at the end of the reply. It is possibly a product of our post-Truth culture that emphasises a victim identity. A culture which is markedly uncertainty on one hand and where commitment, on the other, might lead to public ridicule, any question is best answered with another question since we can never be sure of anything. Ask children questions and they will reply tentatively. What is the largest city in Malaysia? Kuala Lumpur???


Cutting through the thickets of hearsay or better still, ambiguity and doubt, Jesus poses a personal question the Apostles: “Never mind what others say.  Who am I to you?”. Fortunately, we are rescued by Peter’s courage, confidence and conviction. His commitment establishes the foundation of our faith for Peter provides the stability that is all the more necessary these days. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. In Peter and his successors, the Church exists through time to personally respond to the question that Christ poses anew each epoch and era: “Who do you say that I am?”.


Indeed, such a faith cannot be merely human as it is also a gift of the supernatural because God wants to establish for Himself a Church to guide humanity safely into eternity. Peter is the key in this endeavour, the rock upon whom the beacon of faith stands and whose light shines a path for mankind along this pilgrimage to the eternal.


Eternity, not temporality is the goal of human existence. Born also of the spirit, we are made for the everlasting which goes beyond mortal death. This vocation to the eternal perdures for as long as we are bound by time and space, which makes Peter’s Confession necessary for our journey and his faith is protected by what we commonly understand as the Apostolic Succession.


For most, this concept or notion is a canon of authenticity to determine which was the true Church and which doctrines belong to the true teachings of Christ. Concretely, tracing the legitimacy of a Bishop’s authority, Apostolic Succession is that line that stretches back to the Apostles. But that is not all there is to it because it is also forward-looking from the perspective of John 6. In that long Eucharistic Discourse between Jesus and the Jews, there is an insistence by the Lord that eternal life is premised on the Sacrament of Eucharist, that is, “If you want to live forever, eat my flesh and drink my blood”. It is a lifeline from eternity.


Such a demand would not make any sense if Christ did not provide for this possibility. How else can we be assured that what we consume is the Body and what we imbibe is the Blood of Christ unless we can be assured that the power of confection is handed down through Apostolic Succession, notably, through the laying on of hands.


Therefore, Peter’s Confession, whilst it is central to the Institution of the Papacy or the Office of the Pope, it is not restricted by it but is at work in the nitty-gritty celebration of the Sacraments Christ gave us—especially Confirmation, Confession, Anointing of the Sick, Eucharist and Holy Orders. Through Peter, the doctrine of Apostolic Succession guarantees that what we receive is what Christ Himself wants to give to us—His Body and Blood, truly, really and substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine. Peter’s Confession of faith is as concrete as it can get in the manner the Church is formed around the Sacraments.


But, unwittingly, we may have painted ourselves into a corner. Virtual conferencing has come to replace face-to-face communications. Earlier in the lockdown, many were lauding this development as the way forward in this new “abnormal”. No doubt, social distancing demanded it. Even though one can conduct business from the safety of one’s home, still people are exhausted. Why? This medium of convenience ignores the centrality of time and space in human interactions. These aspects of reality point towards the sacramental nature of existence. Man is hopelessly sacramental because he is a creature defined by time and space. Two examples. 1st. Francis Xavier used to carry the names of his companions with him in Asia. Just like anyone who carries a photo of a loved one. 2nd. Imagine a man proposing to marry his fiancée through FaceTime whilst defaecating. The very suggestion is gross simply because it makes a mockery of the human and therefore sacramental actions of proposing and consenting to a marriage. A person does not simply propose but will look for a good time and a proper place to do it. In a homogenised setting—anywhere, office, toilet, home, driving—of teleconferencing, the sacramental nature of man is forgotten. 


The sacraments are sensible and tangible realities, not virtual. We may have swum in virtuosity to the point we now mistake what is virtual to be real but there is a divide that cannot be bridged, and it is grounded in nature or creation. As an organism, we all need food to survive. How long can a person continue without eating or how long can an online gamer play without sustenance or sleep? Moreover, bodily contact is the basis for human reproduction. Those of you with an offspring, did you produce a child on your own? Even Mary required the agency of the Holy Spirit, proving that sacramentality or mediation is involved in the very act of reproduction. Regrettably, in this pandemic, we have encouraged the vulnerable to receive Spiritual Communion without the proper catechesis that Spiritual Communion is always directed at Actual Communion. The Real Presence of the Eucharist is our Viaticum. In our virtual prison, the exceptions which are Spiritual Communion, life-streamed Adoration and online Masses all run the danger of becoming the rule. The Eucharist is truly Jesus and not a mere symbol as Flannery O’Conner was heard to have remarked, “If it is only a symbol, to hell with it”. For a multitude, the Eucharist is no more than a symbol which explains why Catholics have not rushed back in droves to our parishes.


You recognise that Peter’s Confession and the doctrine of Apostolic Succession are not two distant Roman realities removed from our lived experience. They stand at the very heart of who we are as Church. The Church confects the Eucharist so that She may feed us with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ Himself. Our journey to heaven is powered by the Sacraments, most especially, the Eucharist. But, without Peter’s Confession which grounds the doctrine of Apostolic Succession, we would never be able to feast on the Bread of eternal life.


At present, the road back to the regular celebration of the Eucharist is arduous and challenging. In a sense, there could be a diabolical aspect to this pandemic. Hence, we need to be spiritually attentive to movements that may, under the guise of “good”, obstruct the providence of this essential food for our journey (the Viaticum) to heaven. Nothing makes the Devil happier than to deny us the Holy Eucharist—the sustenance vital for eternal life. In conclusion, the identity politics of Jesus have nothing to do with race, gender, sexual orientation, social background, class or even religion. Instead, the identity of Jesus—“Who am I to you?” is tied to our salvation. To know who Jesus is, is to be nourished and so be saved by Him.

Sunday, 16 August 2020

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

If God is good, why is there suffering? A valid question as it comes from a place of hurt. This poser may appear to operate within the logic non-contradiction but more likely, it is no more than a “cri de cœur” in an age of victims. Used to having our ways, we feel that God is uncaring because there seems to be unwarranted sufferings in the world—catastrophes of one kind or another that always end with the innocent suffering. We need look no further than the unanswered prayers for this cursed pandemic to end. Where the hell is God in this never-ending nightmare?


The readings can and do shine a light for us through the darkness of this plaguing pandemic. It is true that the main topic that springs out of the reading centres on universality. The first reading leads the way with a bold vision of the gatherings of people of every tribe and nation on God’s holy mountain. As an ideal, an all-embracing universality rhymes with the current notion of inclusivity. Hence, the compelling interpretation follows this trajectory—a seeming “narrow-minded” Jesus is challenged by a Syro-Phoenician or a Canaanite woman to be more “catholic” than He hitherto has been. It is liberating, almost music to our globalised ears to witness a Jesus who “came for the Jews” emancipated from the shackles of segregation and is now more open to the idea that He “came for everybody”.


It does sound pretty “United Nationy”, does it not? “Imagine no heaven and no hell but a brotherhood of man” according to John Lennon. But, from a “I came for everybody”, we are expected to widen the boundary of “non-judgementalism” which is basically the code word for “acceptance” of anything and everything. Unknowingly, we breathe the “sectarian” or tainted air of a cancel culture in which there is an unspoken set of rules and regulations that one must subscribe to if one is not to be labelled as a “racist, denier, bigot, sexist” and etc. Online shaming is an acceptable form of “controlling” or policing thoughts and behaviours. From celebrities to companies, people quiver in fear of being cancelled for not toeing the arbitrary line drawn up by this current enlightened “woke” culture we now have—and for daring to stand outside this predetermined criteria of the established norms.


Hence, if Jesus is not to be “politicised” as if He were the standard-bearer for a “God who accepts everything”, we take a look at where Jesus was and how He dealt with the Syro-Phoenician woman. 


Firstly, He practically left Galilee, withdrawing to the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon. This side-trip would have been an indication that He was already open to the idea that His message was not restricted to the Jews alone. In fact, He had many encounters with Gentiles and not in any way was He disturbed by the fact that they were pagans. Thus, the reason for His apparent rudeness to the woman must be found not in His narrow-mindedness but elsewhere. The restricted prescription to Israel was not a mark of exclusivity but rather it was an indication of where Israel stood in God’s plan of salvation. Israel is the first-born of all the nations. Preference is given to them because it belongs to the mystery of God’s choice. It is like saying to a person, “How can you love that man or woman”?


Secondly, the stress on the ministry to His own people makes sense from another perspective. A prophet is generally not accepted in His own country. Even then a prophet must preach not to the choir but to those who are most difficult to convert—family and friends. All the more when Israel is considered God’s preferred nation. They must be given every possibility to accept Jesus as the Messiah as He remarked to some of the unbelieving crowds that “If the miracles performed before the them were to be done in Tyre and Sidon, they, the unbelievers, would have been converted and repentant”. The comment reveals how roundly rejected He must have felt at the hands of His own people. They still reject Him today.


In the exchange between Jesus and the woman, the silence was deeply disconcerting that even the disciples were embarrassed to the point of intervention. “Give in so that we can get rid of her”. With our heightened awareness of being slighted, we may shudder at Jesus’ cold-hearted callousness to this woman’s plight. It was an odd behaviour that was distinctly unChristlike. But, according to St Augustine: “Christ showed Himself indifferent to her, not in order to refuse her His mercy but rather to inflame her desire for it” (Sermo 77, 1: PL 38, 483).


Imagine that. Silence is not proof that God’s care is lacking. He is silent in order that we might search for Him even more. The question is, will we? Yesterday, we had 250 people (max.) registered for sunset Holy Mass. As a result, we had to move 80 people to next weekend. As it was, only 178 registered turned up with 4 who walked in. We are not unique as this phenomenon is also reflected in other parishes. Signing up but not coming raises questions about the quality of our search for God. As it stretches on, the current pandemic will have far-reaching material implications. Many will suffer, no doubt about it. However, let us not forget that disease also has spiritual consequences. In a highly materialist culture, where religion is practically peripheral, the experience of God’s absence will be even more acute. When belief in God is functional and utilitarian, we will certainly feel the abject abandonment of God.


The Syro-Phoenician woman did not approach Jesus from a material perspective. Even though, she would have spent a lot searching for a cure for her daughter. “Sir, Son of David, take pity on me”. Stooping low to beg the mercy of Jesus was the beginning of her faith journey with ensuing dialogue further stimulating her faith. The House of Israel is indeed more extensive than the geography of Israel. While Jesus may have come for the House of Israel, His eyes have always been set on those who in faith are seeking salvation.


Thus, the readings emphasise the universality of God’s salvation. God intends to save. In terms of redemption, He is the Saviour of all, or He is the Saviour of none. God is the Saviour of all mankind means God accepts all. The focus on the mission to Jews was never exclusive. The interaction between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman shows us even though salvation was intended for all, faith is the key to being saved. Nobody is saved because race or gender or rank etc. She was saved because of her faith in Jesus Christ. While it is lovely to proclaim that God accepts all, the truth is only faith in Jesus Christ with all that it entails is our salvation.


Hopefully, this extended helplessness may open us to the spiritual nature of our suffering. In yearning for normalcy to return, we should beg God to save us now and also in the hereafter. All it took was one brush with a Covid case and Holy Masses were cancelled. Originally, the suspension was to last until 29th August. Thanks be to God we are back today. So far, we have been myopically materialistic, believing that the vaccine is the only solution. In this recovery period, let us not forget that our prayer of faith is a crucial component in the race to come up with a viable vaccine. Like the Syro-Phoenician woman, let us bend low and in faith ask Our Lord to have pity on us and to remove this scourge and through a scientific breakthrough, grant us a quick resolution to this crisis of contagion. Even if God remains silent, do not cease praying. He will surely heed our prayers.

Monday, 10 August 2020

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020

The word cacophony may help us enter into the spirit of the first reading and the Gospel. A sanitised etymology defines it as deriving from the words “bad” (kakos) and “sound” (phone). However, a more earthy origin of “kakos” associates it with our bodily function of defaecating. Hence, cacophony is more “shitty/soily sound” than bad.

We inhabit a rather cacophonous world. An aspect of our era is that noise is knitted into the fabric of our daily existence. The race for technological advancement and the drive for material progress seem to hold us enthralled if not addicted that we are unable to let go of the clamour or commotion of life. Sit in an office and listen to the humming of all the devices and you understand why silence is next to impossible. Our “attachment” runs counter to the thread that weaves through the 1st Reading and the Gospel: Where is God to be found? Certainly, the experience of the Prophet Elijah highlights the challenge of a noisy world that is incapable of keeping still long enough to recognise God’s gentle presence. In the storm, Peter began to sink when he was distracted by the gust and gale swirling around him instead of focussing on Christ coming to him.

Surrounded by the din of modernity, noise makes it difficult perceive God’s presence. When seized by the screaming squall of a storm, we will experience Him as absent from our lives and this pandemic seems to have confirmed. Apart from devastating us economically, Covid-19 has laid bare a landscape that is bereft of God. Why does it feel that God is nowhere to be found? We may protest that we genuinely believe in His presence, but in reality, we live as if He were absent.

Firstly, in terms of absence, our relationship with God, by and large, it is one that is marked by utility or usefulness. How smugly presumptuous we were based on the few enquiries about when Holy Mass would resume. We foolishly thought that people would come flocking back to Church, braving the Byzantine layers of procedures designed to prevent a congregation gathering from generating Covid clusters. But consider what Aristotle once remarked, “A swallow does not a summer make”.

So far, the registration for Holy Mass attendance has not been overwhelming and even amongst those who have signed up, some do not show up at all. We may have overestimated the number of people desiring to attend Holy Mass. What makes it worse is that those who are raring to join are those, on account of their vulnerability, discouraged from coming. Unbeknownst, we may have further nudged our faithful into a world of individual preferences that is devoid of personal sacrifices—one is always a click away from a better life-streamed homily elsewhere than the boring, insipid and uninspiring homilies of a neighbouring Archdiocese north of here. What was once a substitute, that is, Spiritual Communion has now become the standard. In terms of our friendship with God, we continue to slide down the slope of spiritual convenience which is nothing more than a relationship empty of sacrifice.

Secondly, this shallow communion shows too in our Sunday collection. I am not soliciting but merely pointing out a sobering fact that nobody had thought that this “isolation” would last this long. Initially, donations came pouring in but now, as reality bites, families will soon draw from whatever savings they may have. Economic considerations are at the top of everyone’s priority and that is understandable. Yet, the Sunday collection embodies the 5th precept of the Church which is an obligation to assist in the material needs of the Church, subject to each one’s ability. Tithing as a precept is based on sacrifice, which in turn simply signifies the worship due to God, our Creator. In our devotion, we worship God out of love and never out of fear. As an author said, “Love without sacrifice is like theft”. We give nothing to Him but expects everything of Him.

Thirdly, if you recall the early weeks of the lockdown—even though we were isolated socially, almost overnight, our link to the outside world heightened thanks to our free data increase. Of course, the noise that flows through life merely finds its current in the river of online shopping and food delivery. If not buying or eating, we have been inundated with home entertainment—that “bingeing” which is surely a sin of gluttony has become an acceptable behaviour in light of the lack of movement. Instead of finding God in solitude, we sought refuge and comfort in clatter of our entertainment. In fact, many have retreated behind a wall of noise.

Our reaction to the pandemic, led by science and supported by pleasure, reveals a world hostile to the presence of God. Is it any wonder why we struggle to comprehend if God is ever present to us?

Cardinal Sarah gave an interview which might also help us to tone down our cacophony. In grappling with what he termed as the “Dictatorship of Noise”, he used the example of Christ our Lord to encourage us to enter into silence so that we may be able to hear God. Christ lived for thirty years in silence. Then, during his public life, He withdrew to the desert to listen to and speak with His Father. The world vitally needs those who go off into the desert. Because God speaks in silence”.

We cannot find God without silence. The Word, our Lord Jesus, came from the silence of the Father. Whilst at His birth we are accustomed to the tumultuous voices of the angels coming from above but in reality, both the sacred and silence are intertwined. Sacred silence sharpens our sense of hearing because silence is the perfect art of listening for one who prepares to welcome God as Mary did. She silently pondered these things in her heart.


We do not know how far into the future the tunnel of this pandemic runs. An optimistic forecast predicts a return to normalcy sometime next year. A more alarming picture projects a recovery of the pre-Covid condition in about three or four years. Whether we bite the miraculous bullet sooner or later, what is evident is how much uproar surrounds this contagion. Fear is the noise of any pandemic. Depressing diagnosis or sombre prognosis notwithstanding, our fear has intensified and so too our disquiet. If Holy Saturday is a reminder that God’s silence is not His absence, then, while this pandemic may have envisioned a perfect storm for a dystopian future, it has also set a perfect calm for the silence of listening as it did for Elijah in the breeze and for Peter to hear Jesus call out to him: “Courage, it is I”. Only in silence, can God speak the loudest.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020

The overarching theme for this Sunday is generosity. God is provident as we hear it in the first reading. However, in the Gospel, we begin with the withdrawal of a very human Jesus, possibly to grieve over the death of His cousin, John the Baptist. And yet, He did not hesitate for a second when pressing needs called upon Him. He fed the hungry whereas His disciples thought that sending the crowd away to fend for themselves was a better option. But, the particular miracle continues with the idea of generosity. It feels like Holy Thursday or a Corpus Christi as the multiplication of the loaves and fish prefigures the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The Institution Narrative is an echo of Him taking the bread, blessing and breaking before giving it to His disciples to distribute amongst the people. In letting His disciples apportion the food, He also foreshadows the priesthood of the ordained in the ministry of feeding His flock with the Bread and Wine of eternal life.

The twelve basketful of leftover shows that God is lavishly generous. In order to appreciate His generosity, we need to understand it within the context of the miracles performed by Christ. Each one is a Messianic sign of the Kingdom of God because each one describes how things will be when Christ rules in our world and in our hearts. Miracles verify the truth of His preaching which, according to the Catechism, “are accompanied by mighty works and wonders and signs” (CCC547). In other words, His miracles—the lame walk, the blind see, the dead are brought back to life and today, the hungry are fed—inaugurate His Kingdom in which men are liberated from slavery to sin so as to live in the freedom of God’s children.

The operative word is liberation. Unfortunately, we generally stop at God’s generosity. Our entitled ears are incapable of grasping the full extent of Christ’s Kingship of our hearts and of our world. Sure, we love a God who is benevolent and providential. More so, we prefer a God who can bend to our will. When we want a pliable God, we will never be able to appreciate the 3rd Luminous mystery where Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God..

What is this Kingdom?

Taking our cue from the miracle of the multiplication, Pedro Arrupe, a recent general of the Society of Jesus commented that the Holy Eucharist is not complete as long as people still go hungry in the world. Again, our selective hearing perceives this as a physico-logistical or socio-economical problem. Inequality or injustice prevents the just distribution of food in the world. Actionable people that we are, we want to immediately jump into righting what is wrong. So, we have food distribution programmes—like the one conducted by the Office of Human Development. We aid the poor with provision and groceries. But, even where social justice is not an issue, we do not realise how our exercise of freedom has an impact on hunger. When we consume, we want as many options or alternatives as possible because we associate freedom with the availability of choices. Say, a loaf of bread. Simply put, the baker has to bake X loaves different types of bread (wholegrain, white, brown etc) just so that one can exercise the freedom to choose. A person who walks into a bakery will not buy all the available choices. He generally buys a loaf of bread. At the end of the day, excess bread is discarded. Built into our freedom is the sin of wastage. Think of one of our festivities, like the upcoming Mooncake festival and you get the picture. All the assorted permutations of novelties—Musang King mooncake, with lotus seed paste, with/without egg-yolk etc. When the festivity is over, unsold food has to be disposed of.

There are systemic inequalities in our political and economic systems. Both the programme of equitable distribution of food and the exercise of freedom highlight a challenge with regard to the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ. We often forget that a central element that hinders the Kingdom’s foundation is personal sin. In healing people from sickness and forgiving their sins, Jesus was freeing them for the Kingdom. When we are slaves to sin, human bondage is the result. Personal sin, and not only systemic inequality, be it political, social, economic etc, is a major cause of human misery.

Thus, the key to a better world, a society more reflective of God’s Kingdom, is not just systemic but profoundly personal. Physical hunger has a spiritual cause. Perhaps Greta Thunberg was right when she railed against our environmental excesses by making a personal choice of travelling less especially in air travel. But because we lean towards heavily towards science, we may be tempted to solve the problem of personal sin technically. Social engineering is a good example of a technical solution. However, what we fail to recognise is that no matter how good we are technically, our solution will be thwarted personally. The goodness of a system can be destroyed by personal sin. “Repent and believe the Gospel” indicates that the beginning of the Kingdom is found in the forgiveness of sins and conversion. Personal conversion makes possible the future coming of the Kingdom.

Thus, God may be generous, but His providence is not indulgent. He loves us undoubtedly as we hear in the 2nd Reading. “Nothing can come between us and the love that God has for us” means that God’s love is ever so faithful. Whilst that may be true, we often place obstacles in the path of His love for us. Thus, God’s providence is an invitation to enter into personal conversion. The realisation of God’s Kingdom must always begin with the human heart. There the battle for the soul is fought. In this, we take comfort that God will never give up on us. Neither should we.