Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Look of Love


6th Sunday of Easter (C)

Readings: Acts 15:1-2,22-29; Psalm 66:2-3,5-6,8; Apocalypse 21:10-14,22-23; John 14:23-29

The look of love is in your eyes.
The look your smile can't disguise.
The look of love, it’s saying so much more than just words could ever say.
And what my heart has heard, well, it takes my breath away…

My dear friends, perhaps some of you may recognise these lines. They’re taken from an old love song, sung by Dusty Springfield in 1967. The song is entitled The Look of Love. And the title sums up very well what the song is all about. It’s about someone who looks deeply into her lover’s face, into her lover’s eyes, and is moved by what she finds there. For what she sees are the unmistakable signs of love. The mysterious look of love. Something that fills her own heart with desire. Moves her to want to reach out and gather her lover into her arms. To hold him tight. And to never let him go.

Powerful stuff, right? Yes, but is it real? I must confess, sisters and brothers, that I can’t say for sure. For, as you might expect, this is not an area in which I have a lot of expert knowledge. So what do you think? Can the look of love really hold such power? Or is it all just romantic nonsense? Have you experienced something like it yourself? Would you recognise it if you saw it? What does it feel like, anyway, when you see someone who is truly in love?

Believe it or not, I think this is the question that our readings help us to ponder today. By presenting to us the look of love. We see this most clearly in what Jesus tells his disciples in the gospel. Twice the Lord uses the word if. At the beginning, he says, If anyone loves me… And then near the end, he says, If you loved me… What is the Lord doing, sisters and brothers, if not describing what it looks like when someone falls in love with him? What happens when someone surrenders her heart completely to the Lord. Lets Jesus become the centre of her life. What does it look like when this happens? What are the signs of this love?

Jesus mentions three. The first is presence. If anyone loves me, the Lord says, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him. When someone loves Jesus, and keeps his word, both Jesus and the Father become present to that person. Even take up residence in that person. But this is a mysterious presence. For we have to remember that these words are part of the Lord’s farewell speech to his disciples. Before he goes to his death on the Cross. He will soon be taken away from them. They will no longer see him. At least not in the same way as they did before. So this new presence that Jesus is promising them is a presence in absence. Their love for the Lord will somehow make him present to them, even after he has been taken away.

The Lord then goes on to describe this mysterious experience as the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Advocate, he says, will teach you everything, and remind you of all I have said to you. This is the second sign of love. When someone loves Jesus, not only will that person experience the Lord’s presence even in his absence. But this presence will have very beneficial effects. It will give direction to the person’s life. In any given situation, especially when facing difficult decisions, it will help the person to know what to do. Where to go. How to live. It will give clarity even in the midst of confusion. This is the second sign of love.

Which then leads to a third. Peace I bequeath to you, the Lord says, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give. What the world can give is the superficial peace that results from the absence of trouble. What we feel when everything is going well. But what the Lord offers is a much deeper, far more precious, peace. A peace that endures even in times of trouble. And chaos. The kind of peace that Jesus himself experienced, as he hung on the Cross, and cried out to his Father, into your hands I commend my spirit… A peace that is accompanied even by joy. If you loved me, Jesus tells his disciples, you would have been glad to know that I am going to the Father. Jesus expects those who love him to rejoice even in his absence. To rejoice in the knowledge that he goes to his Father.

Presence in absence. Clarity in confusion. Peace and joy even in the midst of chaos. These are the signs that make up the look of love. This is what Jesus promises will happen to those who love him. And this promise is not just for individuals. This look of love can be seen even in whole communities. It is what we find in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. At this point in the story, Jesus has already ascended into heaven. He is no longer physically present to his disciples. And, in his absence, the community experiences chaos and confusion. Some Jewish Christians cause trouble by insisting that even gentile Christians must be circumcised to be saved.

It is a difficult time. And yet, the community survives. And thrives. The leaders meet to discuss the issue. And, in their gathering, they experience the presence of the Lord, showing them what they must do. Later they announce that it has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials. The Spirit guides them. Helps them distinguish between what is essential and what is not. Enabling them to restore calm to troubled hearts. Presence in absence. Clarity in confusion. Peace and joy even in the midst of chaos. This is what we see in the second reading. Sure signs of the look of love. Present not just in individuals, but also in the whole Christian community.

The second reading takes us even further. In John’s vision, we see the look of love not just in individuals, and not just in a community, but in a whole city. Jerusalem, the holy city. Except that here there is an important difference. This time there is no longer any absence. No longer any confusion. No longer any chaos. For what John receives is a vision of what it looks like when God’s kingdom finally comes in all its fullness. Fullness of presence. Fullness of clarity. Fullness of peace and joy.

The look of love. Sisters and brothers, this is what we find in our readings today. The look of love in the life of an individual. In the life of a community. And, finally, in the whole city of God. A love that brings presence and clarity. Peace and joy. And all this is made possible only because of what Jesus has done for us. By being lifted up on the Cross. And raised to newness of life. So that what our readings offer to us today is really a close look at the face of Jesus himself. It is his love that our readings invite us to contemplate. To gaze deeply into his eyes and into his heart. Filled with such immense love for us. A love that never gives up on us. A love that refuses to let us go. This, my dear friends, is the look of love.

And, as in that old love song, so too with Jesus. His look of love holds incredible power. Power to fill our hearts with desire. Power to move us to do whatever it takes to hold on to him. To make the Lord the centre of our lives. As individuals and as families. As communities and as a whole church. This is the power that is offered to us especially in this joyous Season of Easter.

I can hardly wait to hold you, feel my arms around you.
How long I have waited, waited just to love you.
Now that I have found you, don’t ever go.
Don't ever go. I love you so.

This is how that old song ends. This is the effect of the look of love.

My dear friends, what must we do to surrender ourselves more fully to its power today?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Renewal & Refreshment


5th Sunday of Easter (C)

Picture: cc Brian Leon

My dear friends, have you ever noticed how quickly things age when you’re a child? Imagine that I’m five or six years old. And I come across a brand new toy that I like. So I pester my parents to buy it for me. What happens when they do? Well, I may play with it happily for a day or two. But, very soon after that, I’ll grow tired of it. A newer toy will catch my eye. And I’ll pester my parents to buy that for me. While the earlier one is cast away. Forgotten. Left in some dark corner of my room. Until I’m scolded for being untidy. And made to clean up the mess I’ve made. It’s actually quite amazing, isn’t it, sisters and brothers? How, for a child, something new very quickly grows old. A treasured gift becomes a tiresome burden.

And yet, to be honest, don’t we see this in us grownups as well? Especially those of us who have the money to buy grownup toys. Haven’t we noticed, in this consumer society of ours, how quickly new things grow old? And old things become obsolete? How soon, for example, we need to find a way to discard our iPhone 5 or 6. So as to make way for a brand new iPhone 6s?

Which is bad enough, if we were talking only about toys and gadgets. What’s worse is that we often do the same with people and relationships. Very quickly, don’t we grow tired, not just of cars and computers, but also of husbands and wives? Increasingly, in this ultra-modern society of ours, don’t we see employees getting laid off? Marriages dissolved? Domestic help abused? The elderly neglected? What to do? How to renew the old? To refresh the obsolete? To change tiresome burdens back into treasured gifts? This, my dear friends, is the crucially important question that our Mass readings and prayers help us to ponder today.

We see this most clearly in the second reading, where John describes his vision of a new heaven and a new earth. A marvellous place, where there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. For God is making the whole of creation new. What does this tell us, sisters and brothers? What do we learn about renewal and refreshment? At least three things. First, we learn that renewal is not something that happens at our initiative, but God’s. It is God who renews. Second, we learn that God brings this about simply through the power of God’s presence. God chooses to make his home among us. And third, we learn that God’s presence is consoling. It wipes away all tears from our eyes. 

God’s initiative. God’s presence. God’s consolation. This is how renewal takes place.

But God also chooses to work through human instruments. Like Paul and Barnabas, in the first reading. Having reached the outer limit of their missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas make a U-turn. They go back through the same places they had visited earlier. Even places where they had encountered persecution. But why? Why don’t they take a safer path? The answer is simple. Paul and Barnabas choose to revisit places like Lystra, and Iconium, and Antioch, in order that they may renew and refresh the young Christian communities there. And, as in the second reading, they do this in a very particular way.

Through the ministry of encouragement. Of consolation. By putting fresh heart into the disciples. By encouraging them to persevere in the faith. By reminding them that we all have to experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of God. But that’s not all. Not only do they refresh the hearts of individuals with sound teaching. Paul and Barnabas also renew whole communities, by appointing worthy leaders. Representatives of God on earth. Images of God’s consoling presence at the heart of God’s people. Sound teaching and solid leadership. These are the ways by which Paul and Barnabas bring renewal. First and above all, through the ministry of encouragement. Putting fresh heart into individuals and communities.

All of which should help us to better appreciate what Jesus is doing in the gospel. Something that is not always easy for us to understand. For, at first glance, it may seem that Jesus is placing a terrible burden on the shoulders of his disciples. Love one another; just as I have loved you. To love as Jesus loves. This is how we usually understand this commandment. Simply to love as Jesus loves. And how does Jesus love? By laying down his life for everyone. Including the people who denied and betrayed him. Even the people who tortured and crucified him. What could be more difficult and  burdensome than that?

But is this really how the love commandment is meant to be understood? As a terrible burden? Something that we have heard so many times that it has become old in our ears. And heavy on our hearts. Since we cannot bring ourselves to fulfil it? Or could there be another meaning? Something that we begin to appreciate by paying attention to two words that Jesus uses. The word give and the word new. I give you a new commandment.

Before love is a command, it is first offered to us as a gift. Something that we must receive, before we can offer it to others. And it’s important to remember how the disciples experienced this gift at the Last Supper. In chapter 13 of John’s gospel, before Jesus gives his disciples the love command, he first gives them something else. In verse 15, he says to them, I have given you an example… By which he refers, of course, to his washing of their feet. Something that we ourselves experienced on Maundy Thursday. Jesus, our Lord and Master, refreshes our feet with water. Just as he renews our hearts with his blood. This is how love is first experienced. Not as a terrible burden. But as a precious gift. Given to us by God in Christ.

And this is also what makes the commandment new. It is something that is first done to us. And for us. And in us. For the command is not simply to love as Jesus loves. But to love as Jesus loves us. As Jesus loves me. And I can do that,  only by first allowing myself to receive his love. By having my feet washed by his hands. My heart cleansed by his blood. Isn’t this what Easter is about? Continually allowing Jesus to renew and to refresh us. With the water of baptism. And the blood of the Eucharist. So that we, in our turn, can reach out to renew and refresh our world.

It is often said that, here in Singapore, ours is an aging society. And it’s probably true. But perhaps it is also true that ours is a very childish society. A society that tends to allow new things to grow old too quickly. And that transforms precious gifts into terrible burdens too easily. A society that needs the renewal and refreshment that is the precious gift of Easter.

I’m reminded of this prayer of St. Claude La Colombiere:

O God, what will you do to conquer 
the fearful hardness of our hearts?
Lord, you must give us new hearts,
tender hearts, sensitive hearts,
to replace hearts that are made of marble and of bronze. 
You must give us your own Heart, Jesus.
Come, lovable Heart of Jesus.
Place your Heart deep in the center of our hearts
and enkindle in each heart a flame of love
as strong, as great, as the sum of all the reasons
that I have for loving you, my God. 
O holy Heart of Jesus, dwell hidden in my heart,
so that I may live only in you and only for you,
so that, in the end, I may live with you eternally in heaven.
Amen.

Sisters and brothers, what must we do to allow our Crucified and Risen Lord to continue to refresh and to renew our hearts today?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sing!


3rd Sunday of Easter (C)


Sing, sing a song. Make it simple, to last your whole life long. Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song…

Sisters and brothers, I think at least some of you may find these words familiar. They’re taken from an old song. Popularised in the 1970s, by a brother and sister duo, named The Carpenters. The song is quite simply titled Sing. And it’s message is as straightforward as its name. It’s an invitation to do one thing: To sing. To sing a song. Not just any song. But a joyful song. A song that lasts your whole life long. But how is that even possible? Difficult enough to sing a happy song once in a while. But for the whole of your life? How do we do that? What do you think, sisters and brothers? Is this something you’d like to be able to do?

To sing a joyful song for the whole of our lives. This is actually the invitation that our Mass readings present to us today. The ability to sing a joyful song as long as we live. This is the gift that is offered to us today. The same gift that we ourselves prayed for in the opening prayer just now. May your people exult for ever, O God… so that rejoicing now… we may look forward… to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection… To exult. And not just with the whole of our lives. But forever. This is the awesome gift that we prayed for just now. And what does it mean to exult, if not to sing and dance for joy? But what does it look like to sing in this way? How do we do it? Our readings help us to understand, by answering three questions about this mysterious gift of perpetual song.

The first is a what question. When I think of singing a song, I usually think first of using my voice. But surely it’s impossible for me to sing with my voice non-stop for the whole of my life? How will I eat or sleep? So, if not with my voice, then with what? With what do I sing this song? This is the first question. And the answer is found in the first reading. We gave you a formal warning not to preach in this name… These words, spoken by the High Priest to the Apostles, show us what the religious authorities are trying to do in the first reading. They are trying to silence the Apostles. To stop them from proclaiming the Good News. To smother their song.

The Apostles, however, respond by doing exactly what the High Priest tells them not to do. They continue proclaiming the Good News. They keep talking about the Crucifixion of Christ. And bearing witness to his Rising from the Dead. They keep singing their song. And they do this not just with their voices. In the reading, we’re told that the authorities have them flogged. And yet, quite incredibly, the flogging does nothing to discourage them. Instead, we’re told that they are glad to have had the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name. The Apostles experience joy even in the midst of persecution. They exult even when made to suffer for their faith. A clear indication that they are singing not just with their voices. But with the whole of their lives. This is what they sing the song with.

The second question has to do with whom. To whom do we sing our song? The answer is found in the second reading. Which describes a vision of heaven. Where an immense number of angels, ten thousand times ten thousand… and thousands upon thousands of angels, are doing exactly what the Apostles were doing in the first reading. They are singing a song. They are proclaiming and praising, worshiping and glorifying, Someone. And not just the angels. But all the living things of creation. Everyone is singing the same song: To the One who is sitting on the throne and to the Lamb, be all praise, honour, glory, and power, for ever and ever. In the second reading, all of creation sings a mighty song of praise to God. God is the One to whom we sing our song.

Here then we have the answers to the first two questions. With what, and to whom, do we sing our song? With our whole lives. And to God and God alone. But surely all this is much easier said than done. Difficult enough to squeeze out one hour a week to come to Mass on a Sunday. And even then, don’t some of us find it a great challenge? A terrible struggle? And not just because the parish carpark is so often full. Or all the pews usually taken. Or the music too fast or too slow. Or the homily too long. Or the priest too boring. All this may be true. But isn’t it also because we ourselves are often too preoccupied. Our minds too distracted. Our bodies too tired and stressed out. We find it difficult to sing a song to God, because there is so often a different tune playing in our hearts. A song not of joy and praise. But of anxiety or discouragement. Not of love for others. But of preoccupation with self. A song that is not addressed to God. But sung for the benefit of those we seek to impress. The society in which we yearn so desperately to find recognition.

If all this is true, then perhaps the third and last question is the most important one. The question where. From where do we receive our song? This is the question that the gospel helps us to answer. Here, the action takes place in a very particular location. By the banks of the Sea of Tiberias. But more than just a physical place, this is also a spiritual one. For this is where important spiritual events take place.

Here is where disappointed and discouraged disciples gather. People who spend a whole night, perhaps even the better part of a lifetime, fishing. But without success. Here also is where Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, appears without warning. Not to judge or to scold. But to guide and to feed. Here, the Lord does the cooking. And the serving. And the encouraging. Here the tired find rest. The guilty forgiveness. The disappointed new hope.

Above all, here is also where singers receive their song. Simon, son of John, do you love me…? A question that is meant not to interrogate, or to incriminate. But to heal and to console. To lead and to inspire. To fill the one who is questioned with the gift of song. The power to give glory to God. And not just in life. But also even in death. When you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go… Follow me.

The banks of the Sea of Tiberias. A place of loving encounter. Where absence is changed into Presence. Failure to fruitfulness. Guilt to mercy. A place where singers receive their song. This, my dear friends, is the spiritual location to which we are invited today. And to find it is not hard. What we need to do is to ask the Lord for the courage to face our own weaknesses. And the patience to wait for him to appear. And to do for us what he did for the disciples. Especially in this Season of Easter, the Lord wishes to give us a song to sing for all eternity.

To sing a song with our lives. A song for God. A song from the place of love… This is the gift of Easter. I’m reminded of these lines from another tune that has to do with singing…

My life flows on in endless song, above earth's lamentation. 
I hear the clear, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation. 
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I'm clinging. 
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing? 

Sisters and brothers, indeed Love is Lord of heaven and earth. This is what we believe. What we proclaim especially at Easter. Love has triumphed over death. So how can we keep from singing?

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Locations of Mercy


2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

Picture: cc Kent Chen

Sisters and brothers, imagine for a moment that you want to buy an Apple computer. How would you go about it? Where to go? What to do? Do you know? Of course you do, right? For example, even though Apple has its headquarters somewhere in California. You know that you don’t have to fly all the way to the US to get your hands on a brand new Mac. You know that all you have to do is to visit any one of the many authorised Apple dealers right here in Singapore. Alternatively, you can also buy a Mac off the internet. Just go online. Key in your credit card number and delivery address. And your new computer will be delivered to your doorstep in no time at all. So simple!

And this applies not just to computers. It’s true of many other things as well. From clothes and books. To furniture and groceries. Conveniently located branch and online stores make shopping more convenient than ever. You don’t have to go far. All you need is to know what you want. And to have the money to pay for it. This is something that we all know very well. For we are expert shoppers. Consummate consumers. We know exactly where and how to buy what we want.

But what if what we want is not something that can be bought and sold? What if what we want is love and compassion? Or forgiveness and mercy? Things that money cannot buy. Do we know where to go to get them? Do we know what to do?

This, my dear friends, is exactly the kind of knowledge we are praying for at this Mass. Actually, this is what we prayed for in that beautiful opening prayer that we offered just now. We asked the God of everlasting mercy to increase the grace… bestowed on us. So that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed. My dear friends, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, what we are praying for is the knowledge of where and how to obtain mercy.

And the words that we used in the opening prayer already indicate to us where to find what we are looking for. The principal location where God’s mercy is offered to us. Can you guess where? The prayer speaks of a fountain of water that washes us. A flow of Blood that redeems us. And an outpouring of the Spirit that gives us new birth. Where, my dear friends, do we find these three things together? It is a place that we visited only recently. During the Easter Triduum. Do you remember?

Water and Blood and Spirit. These are the three things that flow from the side of Christ the Lord. As he hangs dead on the Cross. And is pierced by a lance. The Pierced Side of the Crucified Christ. This is where forgiveness is found. This is where mercy is dispensed. Just as Apple has its main office in California. So too does mercy have its headquarters on the Cross.

But isn’t this a problem for us? Aren’t we separated from the Cross by a great distance? Not just in space, but also in time? The Crucifixion took place not just many kilometres away from here. But also many hundreds of years ago from now. How are we to go there to obtain mercy? Thankfully, we don’t have to. At least not physically. For just as you can buy a computer at a branch or online store. So too can you gain access to the mercy of the Cross, without actually going back in time and space. Mercy is accessible in many different locations. Isn’t this what we find in our Mass readings today? Different locations where people experience mercy and its wonderful effects.

In the gospel, the disciples have locked themselves up in an upper room. Earlier, most of them had run away when Jesus was arrested. But even though they deserted him. Jesus does not abandon them. He enters the locked room. And shows them his scarred hands and pierced side. Not just to prove to them that he is really who he says he is. But perhaps also to show them that he bears no grudges. That he yearns only for their friendship.

The Lord then transforms their fear and guilt into joy and peace. Their doubt and discouragement into faith and trust. Counselling the doubtful. Bearing wrongs. Forgiving offences. These are spiritual works of mercy that the Lord performs for his disciples. And he does it all in a locked room.

It is then from this same locked room that the disciples go out. To many other locations. To share what they themselves have received. To do for others what the Lord has done for them. In the first reading, we find them bearing witness to the faith so powerfully, that the numbers of men and women who came to believe in the Lord increased steadily. Not only do they instruct the ignorant. A spiritual work of mercy. The disciples also heal the sick. A corporal work of mercy. And they do it not just in rooms and houses. But even out in the streets.

The second reading goes even further. Here, not only is mercy found in the success of the streets. It is experienced even in the suffering of exile. The apostle John finds himself banished to the island of Patmos, for having preached God’s word and witnessed for Jesus. But, in his painful isolation, John is blessed with a powerful experience of mercy. The Crucified and Risen One appears to him and encourages him. Even gives him a new mission. I fell in a dead faint at his feet, but he touched me with his right hand and said, “Do not be afraid… Now write down all that you see…”

Comforting the afflicted. A spiritual work of mercy. This is what the Risen Christ does for John. And this is also what the Lord asks John to do for others. Through the written word. A written word that continues to encourage us today. So that even from a deserted island, mercy begets mercy. Even from a painful exile, the Good News of God’s love continues to ring out down through the ages. And all around the world.

From the cruel Cross to a locked room. From the streets of success to an island of suffering. In all of these places and more, God continues to offer people, to offer us, an experience of mercy. Inviting us to share with others what we ourselves have received. And this should be a great consolation to us. For in our own lives too, don’t we have our cruel crosses and locked rooms? Our streets of success and islands of suffering? The good news is that no matter where we find may ourselves, God’s mercy is still accessible to us. 

But what must we do to access it? We can buy a computer with money. What do we need to obtain mercy. Nothing more than desire and memory, prayer and praise. We must first want to experience mercy. We must also remember the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. And then we need to pray for what we want. Giving praise to God for all that God has done and continues to do for us. Desire and memory. Prayer and praise. This is the currency by which mercy is obtained.

Sisters and brothers, we all know where to go and what to do to shop for what we want. But where must we go, and what must we do, to receive and to show mercy today?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Catching The Sunrise


Easter Sunday

Picture: cc arditpg

My dear friends, do you know what it takes to catch a sunrise? Have you ever tried? People sometimes do it while on vacation. Or at a retreat. Typically, it requires movement of some sort. You have to get out of bed early, for example. And maybe even climb a hill. And you need to turn your eyes to the east, because that’s where the sun comes from. And then, if you pay attention patiently enough, you will see it. The dawning of a new day. You will gaze in wonder, as the light gradually overtakes and overwhelms the darkness. An awe-inspiring sight. Something that will probably make you want to tell others about it. As soon as possible. To post your pics. To tweet your excitement.  To share your experience. To proclaim your joy.

Movement, attention and proclamation. M-A-P. These three steps serve as a map that leads us to the sunrise. A map that works well for Easter too. For Easter, as you know, is very much like a sunrise. The gospel begins by telling us that it was very early on the first day of the week and still dark. The sun had not yet risen. Except that this, as you know, is no ordinary darkness. This is chapter 20 of John’s gospel. Earlier, in chapter 13, at the Last Supper, after Judas goes out to betray Jesus, we’re told that night had fallen. The night of ignorance and unbelief. Of betrayal and hardness of heart. A spiritual darkness. Which lingers into chapter 20. Even as Mary of Magdala approaches the tomb, on that first Easter morning.

This is the deeper darkness that Easter dispels. Just like how the night is overtaken and overwhelmed by the rising of the sun. But how do people go about catching this spiritual sunrise? How to experience its power? Where to go? What to do? The Mass readings provide us with the map.

The first step is MOVEMENT. We see it most clearly in the gospel. Notice how everyone is moving. Running. Mary runs to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple. Who both then run to the tomb together. But that’s not all. After they arrive there, a more important movement takes place. They both enter the tomb. One after the other. Which is probably not an easy thing for them to do. For the tomb is also a spiritual place. To enter it is to plunge into their own inner darkness. Imagine what this must be like. Especially for Peter. Who had three times denied the Lord. To enter the tomb is to face his own guilt and shame. His own grief and pain. Not an easy movement to make.

But, somehow, the disciples manage it. Spurred on, perhaps, by their love for their Master. Is it any accident that the one who reaches the tomb first is the disciple described as the one whom Jesus loved? In any case, they both enter the tomb. Much like how people might climb a hill to watch the sunrise. And it is here that the day begins to dawn for them. Here, the burial cloths–once only trappings of death–are transformed into signs of new life. The reading tells us that at least one of them saw and he believed.

This, my dear friends, is the first step of Easter. Movement. And this too is what each of us needs to undertake. In fact, this is what we have been doing throughout the great Season of Lent. Move. From the superficial comfort of our preoccupied lives. To the unresolved tensions that so often lie hidden below the surface. The unexpressed hungers and unconfessed guilt. The unasked questions and unacknowledged pain. All the things that we so often ignore and suppress. Only to have them engulf us. Like the blackest of nights. What to do? How to catch the sunrise? We need first to follow Christ into this inner darkness. To enter, with him, this interior tomb. And there to allow him to convince us that he must rise from the dead.

Nor is this movement something that happens once and for all. However intense our initial conversion experience may have been. Whether it was at the RCIA or the CER. The PRE or ME. Or at some other retreat or renewal programme. The challenge for us is to remain attentive. To keep moving daily. To keep facing, with Christ, our inner darkness. So that it can be transformed for us into light. ATTENTION. This is the second step of Easter.

And this is also the good habit that the second reading encourages us to cultivate. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. In other words, keep watch over yourself. Especially your inner self. Your thoughts and feelings. Your attitudes and convictions. Be alert to the subtle ways in which darkness can creep into your heart. Drawing you into anger and resentment. Depression and despair. Envy and rash judgment. And when you see this happening, make a conscious decision to turn toward the light. Like how people turn to face the east. In order to catch the rising of the sun. To see light in the midst of darkness. New life in the face of death.

And what happens if you do see the light? What if you do catch the sunrise? Is that the end of it? No. For it is in the nature of true joy, of authentic hope, always to seek company. Always to yearn to be shared with others. Isn’t this why we see Peter doing what he’s doing in the first reading? He goes to the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. And proclaims the good news to his whole household. We are… witnesses. We have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead. And he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people… Movement and attention leads to PROCLAMATION. The third step of Easter.

Movement, attention and proclamation. Three steps that enable us to catch the rising of the sun. The dawning of the day. The same day that we sang about in the response to the psalm: This day was made by the Lord: we rejoice and are glad. A day that consists not just in 12 or 24 hours. But an eternal day. Filled with joy and hope. This is the gift of Easter. A gift so badly needed not just by us. But also by the rest of our world. Covered as it is in the painful night of ignorance and unbelief. Of conflict and division. Of loneliness and pain. The new day of joy and hope. This is the gift that, as baptised Christians, followers of the Crucified and Risen One, we are all called to share.

Sisters and brothers, Christ the Eternal Sun has Risen! What must we do to keep basking in the joy of his Glory? To keep ushering others into the brilliance of his Light today?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Resounding Refrain


Friday of the Passion of the Lord
Celebration of the Passion of the Lord

Picture: cc sean dreilinger

My dear friends, do you know what a refrain is? I’m sure you do. It’s that part of a song that keeps getting repeated. Over and over again. Usually, it’s something that the composer wants to emphasise. Well, if you were to compose a song today. A song about the Mystery we are celebrating. A song about the Passion of the Lord. What would you choose to emphasise? How would you phrase your refrain?

For a start, perhaps we could first consider what to put into the verses of our song. This shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s a song about the Passion of the Lord. So one way to do it is simply to include the events that happened. All that the Lord did between Holy Thursday evening and Easter Sunday morning. Or, more importantly, all that he allowed to be done to him.

We might begin by singing of his arrest in the Garden. Of how he submitted, even though he could have run away. Or incited his disciples to resist. To meet violence with violence. For he was able to make his enemies fall down. Simply by saying I am he. Yet, he refused to resist. He submitted humbly. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given? And he protected his friends. If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go…

We could sing also of his so-called trial. First before the Jewish authorities, and then the Roman governor. We could sing of how his enemies went all out to kill him. Even when Pilate could find no case. Of how, though innocent, Jesus submitted himself. First to mockery and torture. And then to condemnation and death. O, the injustice of it all. The injustice, and the shame. We could also sing of how he died. With his flesh torn and tattered. But his spirit unbroken and unbowed. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.… It is accomplished…

All these things we could include in our song. But what of the refrain? I’m not sure what you think, sisters and brothers. But I’m drawn to these words from the first reading: We thought of him as someone punished… by God. Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins… These words tell me not just what the Lord endured. But why he endured it. He did it for me…

He did it to help me do what the second reading encourages me to do. To never let go of the faith we have professed. But to be confident… in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help…. He did it to give me hope. He did it for me…

I’m reminded of these words from another song about the Passion. I think you know it: Were you there when they crucified my Lord…. Were you there when they nailed him to a tree…. Sometimes it causes me to tremble… To tremble, when I remember that he did it for me. He did it all for me…

He did it for me. This is my refrain. Something that needs to be repeated over and over again. And not just with my lips. But also especially with my life. He did it for me… He did it for me…

My dear friends, what must we do to let this refrain resound, in hearts and in our world, in the days ahead?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Laundry & The Last Supper


Holy Thursday
Mass of The Last Supper

Picture: cc Kim MyoungSung

Sisters and brothers, do you remember the last time you did the laundry? What did it involve? I’m not sure if it’s the same for you. But when I do my laundry, it usually involves at least three things. Let me begin with the end result. When I do the laundry, what I expect to get out of it at the end is a fresh start. A batch of clean clothes. And, of course, to achieve this, the soiled clothes need to be put through a process of washing and drying. Requiring not just water. But also detergent. Something to remove the dirt.

A fresh start and a good wash. Those are just two things. I said there were three. Can you guess what the third one is? It’s actually something that I do first of all. Even before I put the soiled clothes into the washer. Perhaps some of you do it too. It’s to turn the clothes inside out. These are the three things that happen when I do the laundry: There is a refreshing, a washing, and turning of things inside out.

But why talk about all this tonight, when we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper? On this solemn evening, when we recall how Jesus embarked on the final phase of his mission on earth, by first gathering his disciples in an upper room? Why talk about doing the laundry, when what we are celebrating is an intimate farewell meal?

The reason is not difficult to guess. It has something to do with the fact that meals are typically not just about eating. They usually have deeper meanings. And our Mass readings help us to penetrate the deeper meaning of the Last Supper. The deeper meaning of the Eucharist. And, strange as it may sound, the readings do this by pointing out to us three things that are very similar to what happens when we do the laundry.

Again, we begin with the end result. To make a fresh start. This is why we do the laundry. This is also what the Last Supper is really about. By having a final meal with them, Jesus is telling his disciples that what he is about to do is to help them to make a fresh start. And not just them, but all of us as well. Through his Cross and Resurrection, Jesus helps the whole of Creation to make a fresh start. Much like how God helped the people of Israel in the first reading.

The Israelites, as you know, were slaves in Egypt. Oppressed by Pharaoh. And God set them free. Gave them a new beginning. Which they are then instructed to commemorate every year. By gathering to eat the Passover meal. In a month that becomes for them the first month of their year.

A new beginning. A fresh start. This is what the Last Supper is really about. And this is also what we celebrate every time we gather for the Eucharist. We celebrate the different ways in which God continues to set us free from our slavery to sin. And to all the other weaknesses that oppress us. So that we might enjoy the dignity and freedom that belongs to us. The children of God.

But in order for this fresh start to take place, there must first be something like a washing. A cleansing with the most powerful of all detergents. In the gospel, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet with water. But that washing with water symbolises something far more potent. It points to the same thing that the Israelites used, in the first reading, to mark their lintels and doorposts. The same thing mentioned by Jesus himself, in the second reading. When the Lord offers his disciples the cup of wine at supper. And the same thing that we sang about just now, in that beautiful response to the psalm. The cleansing that the Last Supper signifies is effected not just with water, but with blood. The blood of an innocent, spotless lamb. Put to death to set a people free.

A fresh start brought about by a washing in blood. This is what the Last Supper is really about. This is what we celebrate every time we gather for the Eucharist. But that’s not all. As it is when we do the laundry, so too with the Last Supper. So too with the Eucharist. There is also a turning inside out. Perhaps even upside down. What do we mean?

Typically, in many religious celebrations, it is the people who offer sacrifices to the gods. It is the people who have to wash themselves, in order to be fit to enter into the presence of their god. Even in the first reading, it is an animal that is killed. A goat. Or a sheep. So that its blood can be used as a sign to God. So that God might pass over the people. Without doing them harm.

But notice how, at the Last Supper, all this gets turned inside out. And upside down. At the Last Supper, it is not people who wash themselves, but God who washes them. At the Last Supper, what we find is not so much a sacrifice offered by the people to their god. As much as it is a sacrifice offered by God to the people. Jesus gives himself as a sacrifice. Offered to us. To show us just how much we are loved. Just how much God loves us. Which is why the gospel tells us that, at the Last Supper, Jesus showed how perfect his love was.

At the Last Supper, it is not a sheep that is sacrificed. But the shepherd. The Chief Shepherd himself. Christ the Lord. Who goes to his death, not just to show us how much we are loved. But also to beg us to allow ourselves to be loved. This is my body… broken for you… This is my blood… poured out for you…  Won’t you eat it? Won’t you drink it? Won’t you share in the life I am offering you? The life that I am now going to lay down for you?

At the Last Supper, something is turned inside out and upside down. God prepares to die. So that we might live. And so that we too might allow ourselves to be turned inside out. To exchange our selfishness for God’s love. And to spend our lives doing the same for our world. Replacing oppression with service. Hatred with compassion. Conflict with peace.

Sisters and brothers, if the Last Supper is indeed similar to doing the laundry. Then what must we do to continue allowing ourselves and our world to be turned inside out today?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...