Saturday, 31 October 2020

All Saints Day Year A 2020

This year, the 31st Sunday gives way to All Saints. It may appear that this sanctoral solemnity ranks even higher than the Day of the Lord. This apparent anomaly reminds me of a UK pilgrimage where we visited this massive Cathedral, an Anglican one. Inside, one is greeted by a pantheon of decapitated saints. It was formerly a Catholic Cathedral, taken over by the Anglicans during the Reformation and since Catholics were considered idolaters, many of the saints had their heads severed. Ironical that within the same sacred space, the effigies of the different kings and queens of England remained untouched—so much for repudiating the idolatrous Catholic practice of venerating the saints. The irony of double standard.


When saints on pedestals are not acceptable but monarchs are, it reveals how we have remodelled our perception of what we are supposed to be. In terms of the Christian hierarchy, it must be the multitude of saints and not the kings or queens who should stand as powerful reminders of the ideal that we ought to strive for. Of course, saints and monarchs are not mutually exclusive because there have been many kings and queens[1] who have gone on to become saints. Through baptism, each one of us is called to be a saint but the truth is, in an age where celebrities have taken over the place of royalty, saints have become irrelevant standards as we become more and more enchanted by the failings and foibles of the rich and the famous.


The ironical inversion of our values—that is, sanctity being traded in for fame and glory—is not the only anomaly that we are experiencing. Today we mark the day of all saints—as in, we remember the “unknown saints” who are not publicly commemorated by the Church. Do we know what exactly we are celebrating? It must be important because ordinarily it is a day of obligation if it fell on a weekday. Let me elaborate.


When we speak of darkness, we are actually remarking that there is an absence of light. Or cold is defined as the absence of heat. In like manner, today’s All Saints, even though it is supposed to be a remembrance of “all the unknown saints”, precisely it has become a celebration of the “absence” of saints.


To illustrate what is meant by the “absence” of saints, let me ask a question. Have you ever heard of falling in love with the feeling of falling in love? The feeling has become more important than the person one is in love with. If that becomes the case, the “object” of one’s love has become a concept which is useful but not necessary. I just need someone (anyone) so that I can fall in love. Or the idea of filial piety. I visit my father out of filial piety which means the visitation is merely to fulfil the obligation of being filial which translate to my Dad being reduced to a utility.[2]


Similarly, the point is that All Saints has been relegated to an “empty” concept because we barely celebrate the saints throughout the whole year. In other words, we are marking a day of meaningless celebration. If light and darkness are in tandem relationship in the sense that one describes of privation of the other, perhaps All Saints only makes sense if we are regularly celebrating the Saints. Sadly, closer to reality is that we have narrowed our saints to basically, Bernadette, Jude, or Pio, saints who are famous only because they are associated with miracles; mostly because they are useful. We hunger for the spectacular and we search for the exceptional. Whereas there are possibly more than 10,000 recognised saints and how many can claim to have a working knowledge of 10, let alone 5 of these known saints?


Our lack of knowledge is but an indication that we are basically utilitarian at heart. As proof, look around and you only see Our Lady on my left and possibly another statue at the back in a forgotten corner. On my right or rather at the back of me, we have the Divine Mercy; another clue to our pragmatism—He is merciful whereas the eponymous Sacred Heart, after which this Cathedral is named, is nowhere to be seen because He is “useless” unless you count the symbol of the Heart fronting the tabernacle. Anyway, if you missed out, there are four saints and even they are functional—the Four Evangelist on the stained glass panels representing the Liturgy of the Word. In plain English, we have forgotten that saints are basically on the “pedestal” not because of their miracles but because of the lives that they had led.


Saints are the sacraments of Christian discipleship. If you want to follow Christ, look at the saints. If the Eucharist is the food of holiness, then the saints are our flavour of sanctity. They have marked out for us the path to heaven. Have you heard of Cosmas and Damian, Giuseppe Moscati, Antony Mary Zaccaria, Rene Groupil, Francis of Nagasaki. These are all medical doctors and are lived examples of sanctity for they modelled their lives on the prototype of Christus Medicus. Their Catholic faith and practical charity have united them to Christ the Physician as to allow His power to work in and through them that they see in everyone who is sick the Christus Patiens—Christ the Patient. How many of our doctors here have heard of Ss Cosmas, Damian, Giuseppe Moscati, Rene Groupil, Antony Mary Zaccaria, Francis of Nagasaki? The point is, there are as many sacramentals as there are professions. If you are a student, check out Ss Thomas Aquinas, Scholastica, Catherine of Alexandria or Aloysius Gonzage. If you were a pilot, St Joseph Cupertino. The list goes on.


The sanctoral or the sacramental desolation in many of our churches is the result of the regrettable process of vacating the Church of its full content. Many of our ecclesiastical buildings are sterile and uninspiringly vacuous. It is no wonder that people easily settle for televised Mass because the Church has already been vacated long before the Pandemic struck us. Simply put, the chicken of desacralisation has come home to roost.


Heaven is brimming with Saints and Angels so much that at every Sanctus, they join us in praising God. Saints are our lights and our signposts showing us the sure way to reach heaven. If we ever get renovated, it would be wonderful to invite into this sacred space more saints. They are our models of excellence perfected by Christ through the Holy Spirit. They teach us how to live really and to die with grace. They indicate for us a horizon beyond the temporal, where the fulfilment of our deepest human desire takes place, that is, to be united with God for all eternity. That remains our goal but while in the world the saints inspire us to change our world so that the City of Man may come to recognise God as well as it can be recognised by God. As GK Chesterton reminds us. “We do not want a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world”. In order to do that, we need to befriend our saints, real ones and not a concept, so that they can inspire us to emulate them. Saints of God. Come to our aid.

[1] Stephen of Hungary, Louis IX of France, Margaret of Scotland, Elisabeth of Hungary, Isabel of Portugal, Edward of England to name a few. They were monarchs who through their Christian discipleship have gone on to become Saints.

[2] A concept’s currency is judged by its utility and we have witness how ideas and notions come and go. This year is supposed to be Wawasan 2020. Even as the corrupt Crime Minister took over from the Old Man, almost overnight, the Wawasan 2020 became replaced with the 1Malaysia concept, if you remember. That is how useless utility is. Perhaps a point to note is if you use people, people will use you too. But I digress.

Monday, 26 October 2020

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020

Last week, we caught a glimpse of what could be understood as a separation between Church and State. In this artificial divide, the Church should be allowed to worship God, but that right is more of a privilege now because God has been side-lined to the preserve of the private. As a privilege, one has the right only because the State says so.[1]


The effect of this contrived partition is that not only is faith a personal privilege, but it is also private to the point that it is often considered  to be superstitious.[2] For example, you can stick joss-sticks “anywhere you want” except that it should not be “public” because nobody needs to put up with your religious expression.[3] The result of this forced division is that our religious expression is not a right to be celebrated but rather a privilege to be endured, all in the name of “tolerance”. 


This distinction between God and Caesar cannot be absolute in the sense that they have nothing to do with each other; that God is considered private whereas Caesar is public. As stated, the separation is unnatural by the very fact of who we are. We are other-worldly and not merely material beings. We are both spiritual and social and thus the Gospel highlights the fact that both God and neighbour or church and state are inextricably linked. This is not a pitch for a theocracy or a “theocraZy” like Isis or any forms of religious fanaticism. Instead, God plays an intricate role in our human well-being. In terms of God and Caesar, we cannot have one without the other. Without God, can we survive? Sacred Scripture, if it is still relevant, is proof. Israel floundered every time she forgot Her Lord and Saviour. In the same manner, are we forgetting Israel’s experience as we face the pandemic? It is true that we have a health issue at hand. Putting that aside, have we been that socialised into an idea that “health” is the only paramount concern we have? Whilst well-being is vital, it cannot be absolute to the point that God becomes marginal. People have been so excited by live-streaming forgetting that this medium is no substitute for what is real. What is central to human flourishing is God, not our electronic gods.


God is essential to our health, survival and our eternity. This sounds like a persuasion for God and it is. Watch a common reaction to renovating a church, specifically when beautifying it. “Why spend so much money on beautification when there are so many hungry mouths”? Everywhere we turn to, we are witnessing the ravaging effects of the pandemic. And now with our third wave raging uncontrollably out of hand, we will see even more people affected. Loving one’s neighbour cannot be more important now than before.


Sadly, the problem we have is not the human predicament no matter how pressing. It is rather the God-problem. We can be distracted by poverty, hunger, homelessness and the economic disparity in our social setting and we continue to be preoccupied by our social inequality. But our God-problem basically boils down to this[4]--our human plight is essentially a symptom or an indication that God has been absent in our lives. In Matthew 25, Jesus gave us not that much of a solution as a perspective on this human predicament. Precisely with God absent from our horizon that we are not able to see Him in our brothers and sisters. Material poverty is as much a spiritual privation—a proof of God’s absence.


We are not blind for we can see hunger and we want to cure the headache of inequality. We want to make the world so much better. For instance, Pope Francis recently waded into the question of civil unions for same-sex couples. Whether he was right or wrong is immaterial to this point which I am trying to make. The moral mess we are is evidence that we have kept God at the side, inviting Him in only when it is convenient for us. In other words, when God is rendered as an auxiliary incidental, He can easily be weaponised. In other we can effortlessly use Him for our purpose (God is loving, God is kind vs God punishes, God judges). What is relevant is not the weaponisation of God but an emphasis that the absence of God in the human equation has created the tricky situation which can be summed up in this confusion between possibility and permissibility.


Today, our world is constantly trying to enlarge the boundaries of permissibility because of the explosion of possibilities.[5] But God is found in the realm of what is permissible because it is in here that we enter into the arena of relationship. Relationships have moral implications and without God in the picture, we will always struggle to accommodate what is possible. For example, the experiences of the LGBT(?) community. These are descriptions of possibilities. I suppose initially, the experiences were limited to categories of L, G and B. But soon enough, LGB could not satisfactorily define the permutations of the possible. Hence, LGBT. And even then, these classifications are deemed too narrow for we are in the process of accommodating an ever-expanding repertoire of sexual practices.


With the conflation between possible and permissible and with a world organised according to victimhood status, who draws the lines? For instance, what about NAMBLA[6]? If any kind of possibility[7] should be included so as to avoid the label of being called a bigot, prejudiced, racist or sexist etc, then, logically one should include NAMBLA into the equation. Who is to say that paedophilia is wrong? The point here is not the legitimisation of any possible permutation but rather to point out how much God is missing in our possibilities. To ask questions only proves that conscience remains the aboriginal Vicar of Christ, the voice that God speaks to us and the authenticity of the voice is confirmed through the Church given to us by Christ Himself.


In the Gospel, the Pharisees asked about the love of God and neighbour hoping to trap Jesus yet again. But Jesus placed God and neighbour into a kind of relationship which shows that the priority of one makes it a possibility for the other. The love of God is the basis for the love of one’s neighbour. Or to put it in another way, with God at the centre of our lives and worship, we cannot but see with the eyes and feel with the heart of Jesus the diverse and at times extreme conditions of human existence. It will be inauthentic to love God without loving our neighbour.


In summary, we are still being tested on our Christian claim to love God and neighbour. Just like the Pharisees, it is a “sick” test in which the “authenticity” of our love is measured by our complicity in the amorality of our times. According to current wisdom, love means keeping silent because to speak up in the matters of morality will invite a judgement of being fanatics, freaks or fundamentalists. However, the authenticity of our love for our neighbours require that we do not dissolve the line between what is possible and what is permitted. For that, God has to be at the centre, for the love of neighbour requires that we draw lines; some lines that we do not cross and it is not just about murder or taking an innocent life. We need to remind ourselves that God is not here to confirm every choice we can make. He enters into a relationship in order to save us. Thus, making sure the poor have enough to eat is good but, the love for our neighbour must go beyond their material well-being to their spiritual well-being for that is the true meaning of loving God and neighbour.

[1] Much like our access to a passport in this country. It is a privilege and not a right due to a citizen.

[2] Old people more superstitious, younger people more scientific—follow the science

[3] It is a caricature because the reality is more subtle in societies still religiously constituted—like the Thaipusam or the St Anne’s processions.

[4] At best, we pay lip-service to God in terms of His presence. At worst, we have written Him out of our horizon. He useful when we need Him, in the sense of Deus ex machina. Otherwise, we keep Him at arm’s length.

[5] Simple illustration. 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G. Before long 6G? An endless array of possibilities.

[6] North American Man-Boy Love Association. In ancient Greece and Rome, that was termed as pederasty.

[7] The word “perversion” cannot be used here because it is connotatively “judgemental”. But then, possibilities and perversions are worlds apart in terms of their moral contents.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020

As we edge towards the end of the liturgical year, as usual, the themes will also revolve around the Apocalypse, that is, the reckoning that will come at the end of time. What can we make of today’s Gospel? 

Firstly, does it sound like the Apocalypse? No. If you consider the seemingly innocuous but really loaded question they asked Jesus. An adapted saying from Shakespeare’s The Tempest—“politics makes strange bedfellows” best describes this elite group—both Herodians and Pharisees, hell-bent on tripping Jesus. So, they set Him a trap. Initially, they praised Him hoping to catch Him off-guard. Interesting though the conversation may be, the central point of this riposte between Jesus and the powers that be, is to be found in the meaning of obligation. Yes, it is in our duties that we find the connexion between the here and now with the there and after. It is indeed apocalyptical.

Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”.

The recent Confirmation hearing of a nominee to Supreme Court in the United States is possibly an instance of this principle at work or how it seems to be absent in the line of questioning from some of the Senators. At the heart of the principle is the question of worship. Where do we worship, and Whom do we worship? To which altar do we go and at which altar are we at home with?

In the said confirmation hearing, a lot had been remarked about the faith of the nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. She, being a Catholic, was for many of the Democrats a source of angst, making her out to be a religious freak or fanatic. It was not even a subtle attempt as it was a blatant effort to silence, shame or even harass as a bigot, anyone who even dared to think outside the progressive view held by some people. Perhaps, like Jesus she held to the line between God and Caesar.

Between God and Caesar, there is a distinction or a separation. What belongs to God must be rendered to Him and what belongs to the secular realm, as Christians and Catholics, we have a duty to support. In our Catholic understanding, the boundary is pretty clear and to dare to insist that there is actually a line, one has to be ready to be called a fanatic. But, in terms of our day to day experiences as citizens of a country, we are subject to the authorities because they are representatives of God. We owe our duly elected government our loyalty to collaborate with it in order that our public and social life can function. We have a duty to love and serve our country. This includes paying our taxes. The Catechism clearly teaches this.

This distinction is the reason why we also have a conscience. When the laws of the land conflict with our moral obligation, then in conscience, we are free to disobey such laws. In other words, what is legal is not necessarily moral. In the disagreement with Henry VIII, St Thomas More gives us an example of what it means to serve both God and Caesar: I die the King’s good servant but God’s first. Indeed, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)

But is this where our problematic lies? We can be certain that the State, properly speaking, despite its hegemony is not as insistent that there be no line drawn. Instead, there is a far greater power that does not want to draw any line. In fact, this power tries to obfuscate the boundary as we witness more and more confusion in the moral realm. There is that much unclarity that it has become difficult for us to judge between the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. For example, as long as there is love between two people, that is good enough to warrant it as a marriage. However, where is the morality of love between a man and a woman in the context of marriage as determined by Sacred Scripture? This question is enough to invite some woke responses or even provoke a cancel order for daring even to ask this question. In fact, Miriam Webster Dictionary, in response to the use by the SCOTUS nominee of the term “sexual preference” has decided to list it as offensive.[1]

In other words, there are powerful forces in the mainstream media and the technocratic world that are far more absolute than the state. They are determined to set the line or rather to blur the line between God and Caesar. The boundary they have drawn has excluded God or cancelled Him out of it. There is no God except the preference of these prevailing powers that be. In other words, morality is now decided by an atheistic narrative that we are expected to bow before or submit to.

Take another instance. In some countries, foetuses in utero diagnosed with Down Syndrome are systematically aborted. The science dictating this action is way ahead of the moral or ethical discussions about this. Imagine a medical student in one of the universities of such a country who has the audacity to hold this ethico-moral view that all life is sacred—even a deformed foetus is precious in the eyes of God. Would that student have passed if he or she does not submit to the predominant “science”?

It is easy to be labelled a fanatic today. Especially if you dare to stand on the side of God. Nobody in the right frame of mind wants to be shamed but the Gospel today is here for a reason because the line between heaven and hell is that thin and we can go to hell for less than 30 pieces of silver. I say this not as a judgement of you as cowards because it is as much about me. I am afraid to draw the line for God. I am afraid of being cancelled or called a bigot etc. Imagine if a priest has no backbone, how does one expect the sheep to draw the line?

The chasm between God and Caesar is as important as the separation between deliverance and damnation. Within this divide our conscience is the compass of the Apocalypse, of the end time. That means we need lines drawn in order that our conscience can be guided. It is not easy to sift through the competing claims that are floating around. Thankfully, the Church gives us foundational signposts to steer us in the right direction. There are values which, if we claim ourselves to be Catholic, cannot be violated. The sanctity of life is one case. Sanctity of marriage is another and the preservation of religious freedom to mention a third. These principles upon which we organise our moral lives are foundational in our effort to build a city of man where God is present. These moral principles form the integral good of who we are as human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

In short, our path to heaven is already marked out. We have not been left to wonder about and to wander around searching for a place to go. We know where we are heading. Christ left us His Church to show us how to get there. The principle is pretty clear. If there is no distinction between God and Caesar, then God becomes no more than a crutch and the Church nothing more than a spa. We come to feel good about ourselves. But, if that is not the case, then we need to give back to God what belongs to Him because we owe it to Him and ourselves. Which is why we also give back to Caesar because we are social beings living amongst others and we have a duty to society to make it a better one. However, between God and Caesar, God’s law must always triumph over whatever human laws we make. In a world that is trying to blot God out, it would be to our credit if we dared to make a stand for Him.

[1] Apparently, the term is anti-gay simply because it speaks of one’s orientation as a matter of choice or preference when the current narrative demands that we accept orientation as a key part of a person’s identity. It is not a matter of choice.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020

There are two words which have been running around in my head for the longest time. Remember the so-called millennium that came and went. Prior to that, we were gripped by the possibility of chaos arising from Y2K, the so-called glitch conundrum of whether or not we will experience a catastrophe because the year “00” could be read by computers to mean 1900 or 2000. The thing is, we crossed the year of the Lord 2000 seemingly without a problem. Yet, two words have been left behind by this crossing and they aptly describe our current state--dystopian and surreal.


Dystopian is derived from the word “utopia” to mean an imaginary bad place. Surreal is taken from French to mean beyond realism. The long-running series The Walking Dead is possibly an epitome of how dystopian and surreal the post-AD2000 has become even though we did not experience the collapse that should accompany Y2K. If anything, our present pandemic has revealed that we are not as distanced as we imagined ourselves to be from the idiot box.


If life imitates art, then, the line between fact and fiction is rather blurred and hence, the first reading speaks loudly to our dystopian and surrealistic situation. We have a God who wills to save everyone. And the symbol of His overflowing love is depicted by tables laden with food and wine. (Again, a suggestion to have wine tasting, cheese platters and grapes). God invites all to this meal.


This is the same for Jesus too. However, in the Gospel, there may be two parables conflated into one and both are directed to different truths. The first echoes the vision of Isaiah with regard to God’s universal salvation offered to all. God invites us to His joy even though it is unmerited on our part. We have been invited to share in the exhilaration of God’s Kingdom because He intends to save all.


However, we may also mirror Jesus’ time. How so? A meal was a rich symbol of inclusion and equality. Those who share a table eat from the same plate. To share is an immensely powerful sign of unity and inclusion. But those who were sick would be automatically barred. Why? Sickness is a symptom of sin and those who are sick, are banned from the communal meal—the exclusion is a form of excommunication. Our temperature taking is something like that, no? I am not advocating that we discard the SOP. Plus, a higher temperature is not an indication of sinfulness. I am simply making a point that what we are doing runs the danger of turning the Mass into something which only a “healthy” person, sinless or sinful, can attend.


The Mass is meant for saints or sinners, healthy or sick.


The Eucharist is God’s invitation to partake of His life-giving generosity. However, the second parable does provide a sense of condition that God has imposed—a bit like the temperature taking. Whilst God’s invitation is universally inclusive, we respond because we want to be a part of the wedding celebration and as such, we are required to play the prerequisite role. It is fair to expect that one goes to a wedding dressed appropriately.


Whilst we cannot presume that all would want to be saved, the question remains if everyone wants to be saved. The answer technically should be “Yes”. But, in reality, the answer should be “No”. “Yes” requires that the good news be preached to them. How can they be saved if the Gospel is not brought to them? Nevertheless, “No” remains a possibility that, for some reasons, people choose a life without God. Here, we trust that God will do His best to save while at the same time, we deeply respect those who choose otherwise.


Because God is generous in the outpouring of His salvation, we have to reckon with it. Do we want it or not?


Many years ago, I remember Fr Moses Lui—at that time, a young deacon. He spent time in the parish of St Theresa, Malacca and one night came to our youth gathering for some group dynamics. Anyway, he did a session which stayed with me till this day. It was a “what if”: “What if you have 3 more days to live. What would you do?”.


The surreal or the dystopian nature of this pandemic has brought to fore the contingency of life—how easily it can be snatched from us. It is odd that we all can walk out of here and drop dead or get knocked down by a car and yet we do not seem to be bothered by this possibility. But we seem to be obsessed with the likelihood of dying from Covid-19 that we appear to have invested death in this pandemic only, forgetting that people are still dying from other causes. The question about what we would do, given three more days to live, may help us take stock of where we are in relationship with God.


We have been saved through the Sacrament of Baptism—that is, we have been invited to the Wedding Feast. For many of us, too many, if you ask me, live with this proviso, “I will take care of whatever is important when the time is right”. Time does not wait for us and neither will death. The aim of the exercise that Fr Moses gave was to arrive at more or less this answer: “If I have 3 more days to live, I will continue with what I have been doing so far”.


This answer shows a readiness. It is as if one already lives with a clear conscience, ready to embrace death and to meet God, face to face. How many of us have the courage to say that “I have a clear conscience”? This obsessive fear of dying from the pandemic has revealed a chink in our armour of “self-reliance”. We are afraid of God and His judgement. In other words, we are nowhere near the preparedness for eternal life. Much like the man who insists on going to the wedding on his own terms.


God wills to save. The question remains, “Do we want to be saved”? If we do, then, Covid or not, we must live prepared for eternal life. In the coming days, we will be tested again especially when the infections no longer follow any observable pattern. As the curve was flattening, many felt that light was at the end of the tunnel. We took things for granted but death has other ideas. As we witness the resurgence of the disease and as we return to worship, what should our response be? The Gospel reminds us not to be afraid because death is more than just Covid-19. What is crucial is to have a clear conscience because God invites, and He awaits our response. Therefore, fear not for the appropriate answer we give to God is courage, hope and trust.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020

If not for this cursed pandemic, we could have, after Mass, wine tasting, a platter of cheese and crackers. Why? These last three weeks feel like a course through three domaines in the Châteauneuf du Pape region of the Rhone Valley. Vineyard, vineyard and this weekend, vineyard again. 

What is the story regarding the vineyard this Sunday? 

In fact, both the first reading and the Gospel are focused on vineyards but with a twist. In Isaiah, God Himself will destroy the unproductive vineyard. For Matthew, there are no tenants involved. Thus, the problem is neither the vineyard nor the harvest. The attention is rather on those to whom the vineyard has been entrusted. These tenants represent the leaders whose stewardship has not been up to measure. 

In other words, with leadership, there is always expectation, that is, God’s expectation. But, before we proceed, note that strictly speaking, God has no needs. The nature of God is impassible, meaning that He does not undergo emotional changes of state of being. While God has no needs, it does not mean that God is passive and therefore uncaring. Instead, when we describe God’s expectation, we know that it is metaphorical as it denotes our relationship with Him. God’s expectation of us is literally a sketch of our potentiality—we have been created in His image and likeness and so, we have a vocation to live up to in order that we become the best of whom we are called to be.

From this perspective, the repudiation of the cornerstone in the Gospel may be understood as a rejection of God’s standard, that is, to mirror Jesus in life. If anything, the Gospel reveals that we all suffer from an error known as the heresy of low expectations.

When we expect something, we must first of all provide for the possibility that the expectation can be fulfilled. For example, if the authorities want cleanliness on the streets, then they must provide rubbish bins so that people can throw their waste in them. Otherwise, they will just litter. This illustrates that written into the nature of man is that he lives up to what is expected of him. When we remove expectations, people’s motivation tends to dissipate. For instance, in one of the programmes which focuses on overcoming the addiction to pornography, what is required is the addict be accountable to another person. He talks to a companion who journeys with him. That way, expectations are set up so that the one who seeks to conquer his bad habit tries to live up to an ideal. A goal helps.[1]

In the movie Field of Dreams, there is a memorable line “Build it and they will come”. The premise is based on creating an opportunity for a dream to come true. In business, this might not be that helpful because no one should try to sell a product for which one has not researched if there is a market for it. However, in pastoral endeavours, what we often fail to recognise is that if we do not provide a service, people in general will not avail themselves of it.

This is the case for Confessions. It appears that few people are coming for it. Is it because people no longer believe in the Sacrament or is it because priests have not made themselves available for it? What we have done in this country is to reduce confessions to basically the two penitential services. It is a chicken and egg situation, but the truth is, people need to see a priest in the confessional before they queue up. What is required is consistency on the part of the priests.

An expression of this heresy of low expectations is the process of dumbing down which results in a self-fulfilling prophecy. I studied in Dublin for my theology and where I lived, it was a township of about 20,000 people, presumably Catholics, who had the opportunity to go to 3 parishes. In my parish, I was easily the youngest person there in a Sunday crowd of 40 people. Now, to make Mass more attractive, the liturgy was simplified to, 1st or 2nd Reading and the Gospel. They took out one reading to make Mass shorter. If it is that important, dumbing down the liturgy just sends a signal that Mass is not all that essential. If it is not that critical, why bother?

Most people usually live up to (or down to) the expectations placed on them. So many of you are parents. Guess what, you attempt to remove all “troubles” from your children’s life because in your protectiveness and love, you want them to have an easier life, smoothening things out and making it convenient for them so that they can get on with their lives, right? Well, in time to come, packing you off to an old folks’ home would be the expedient thing to do. You have taught them that convenience is paramount.

My younger brother has three children. One of them is special (I dislike this word because if it is special, why is not everyone desiring it. But it is the only acceptable PC term). I tell my nephew and niece that they have a responsibility to take care of their special brother because God gave him to them. Some might view this as guilt-tripping but I look at it as inculcating them how to think beyond themselves to thinking of others and helping them to live up to ideals beyond I, me and myself.

We short-change ourselves when we dumb down. If God were angry with us, it has no connexion with a need that God seems to have but rather it shows how much we have not lived up to our vocation. In fact, this exalted vocation of ours is frequently toned down by a rationalisation or justification which abuses God’s mercy as an excuse for our failure. In other words, the “impassibility of God”, that is, God who is immutable can be easily translated into a God who makes no demands on us. Removing God’s expectation will naturally result in the lowering of our morals.

It is true that God is impassible. He has no need of us, but we need Him now more than ever. Not because we are experiencing the surge of this third wave of Covid-19 but because the more we cancel out His expectation, the more immoral we will become and the more lost we will be. God’s expectation of us is truly a sign of His overflowing love for us—a salvific invitation by Him to the excellence, nobility and perfection for which He has created us. God expects much of us because He knows that with His grace which He has lavishly poured out on us, we can live up and countless saints have lived up to the standard of the Cornerstone—Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

[1] Even “Cheat-Days” are goal-oriented. A person on diet tries to stick to a rigorous regimen and at appropriate moments, the regimen is relaxed to “reward” a person who has hitherto been faithfully following the plan or programme.