Sunday, June 26, 2022

Fences


13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)


Readings: 1 Kings 19: 16, 19-21; Psalm 15 (16): 1-2, 5, 7-11; Galatians 5: 1, 13-18; Luke 9: 51-62

Picture: by Benjamin IbaƱez on Unsplash


My dear friends, have you ever heard of an invisible fence? Years ago, someone walked by a house, and saw a beautiful golden retriever sitting calmly in the front yard. And he wondered why the dog didn’t run away, since the yard didn’t seem to have a fence. Only later did he discover that there is such a thing as an invisible electric pet fence, consisting of wiring buried underground, which interacts with a gadget worn by the pet, keeping it from crossing a designated boundary. Some fences are less obvious than others.


Which is helpful to remember, while we ponder the scriptures today. As you know, in the letter to the Galatians, from which the second reading is taken, St Paul tries to persuade his gentile Christian readers not to allow themselves to be fenced in by the Jewish law of circumcision. For, by Dying and Rising, Christ has already set us free, apart from the Law. So that, for the Galatians, accepting circumcision would be the same as submitting again to a yoke of slavery.


But there are also less obvious forms of slavery. Which is why Paul warns his readers not to allow their freedom from the Law to provide an opening for self-indulgence. And in case we may wonder how self-indulgence can be a form of slavery, we have only to consider some of the addictions to which we can fall prey in modern society. Beyond the more obvious ones like narcotics, alcohol and gambling, aren’t there also less obvious drugs like pornography and sex, gadget-use and gaming, overwork and over-consumption in general? 


But if the ability to do whatever we want can lead to a less obvious form of slavery, then what does Christian freedom look like? And how do we become truly free? According to Paul, Christian freedom consists in simply being able to love. To love God and neighbour, by engaging in works of service, energised and guided by the Spirit.


And what Paul describes in theory, Elijah and Jesus illustrate in practice. After spending time communing with God on Horeb, the mountain of the Lord, the previously burnt-out prophet receives not just a fresh mission, but also renewed energy to carry it out. Selflessly, Elijah anoints Elisha to succeed him. Similarly, soon after having been transfigured on a mountain, Jesus resolutely takes the road to Jerusalem, despite knowing the difficult destiny that awaits him there.


So for both Elijah and Jesus, the freedom and energy to respond to God’s call, come from a prior encounter with God. Perhaps this is why, for a good number of us, our faith can feel less like being set free to love, and more like being fenced in by obligations. For aren’t our lives so packed that we don’t have the space even to catch our own breath, let alone to encounter and be energised by the Breath of God?


If this is true, sisters and brothers, then what can we do to let God remove the fences in our lives, visible or otherwise, so that we may continue being set free for love today?

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Who We Are Meant To Be


Solemnity of the Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ (C)


Readings: Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 109 (110): 1-4; 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26; Luke 9: 11-17

Picture: By Bing Hui Yao on Unsplash


My dear friends, do you remember that familiar story of how an eagle’s egg was once placed in a chicken coop? It hatched, and the eaglet grew up thinking it was a chicken, imitating all that chickens do, scratching in the dirt from dawn to dusk. Then, one day, it happened to look up, and saw another eagle, soaring majestically among the clouds. After staring for a moment, in wonder and admiration, the eagle went back to scratching in the dirt for the rest of its days.


Contrary to what some might think, the current shortage of fresh chickens is not the reason for retelling this story. I’m not suggesting that we eat eagles instead. The story is a tragedy of mistaken identity, of forgetting who one is meant to be. But what is our true identity? Who are we meant to be? I think his is the question our Mass readings invite us to ponder today.


In the gospel, by teaching, healing and then feeding the crowds, Jesus is not just meeting their physical needs. He is performing a prophetic action, pointing to a deeper meaning. In feeding the five thousand, Jesus does four things to the food: He takes and blesses. He breaks and gives. And, we’re told that after all had eaten, the leftovers filled twelve baskets.


Taking and blessing, breaking and giving. These are the same four actions performed whenever we gather for the Eucharist. And the second reading tells us that the Eucharist points to something even more. For Jesus asked us to do it as a memorial of him. Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death. And Jesus’ death was not just the routine execution of a random criminal, but the voluntary self-offering of one who, like Melchizedek, is both king and priest. The Lord laid down his life in a kingly act of loving service. To reconcile, as priest, the world to God.


So the feeding of the five thousand points to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist points to the Lord’s death as priest, prophet and king. But what then is the fruit of the Lord’s Dying and Rising? What did he leave behind? We believe, of course, that he left us his Real Presence in the Eucharist, his Body and Blood. But isn’t there something else? Something to which the twelve baskets of leftovers refer? Doesn’t the Lord also remain truly present in a gathering of people, also known as the Body of Christ, of which we are all members?


And isn’t this what Corpus Christi is also about? In addition to  the eucharistic host, we also celebrate our identity as a eucharistic people. This is who we are called to be. A priestly, prophetic and kingly people, called not just to celebrate the Eucharist here in church, but also to let our celebration inspire us to live eucharistic lives out in the world. Fulfilling ordinary daily responsibilities in ways that bear witness to the love of God. Laying down our lives in loving service, not just to family and friends, but also to those in greater need.


Sisters and brothers, if this in broad strokes is how Christians are meant to soar like eagles, then what must we do to help each other avoid simply scratching in the dirt today?

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Moved by the Music


Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (C)


Readings: Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8:4-9; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Picture: cc roanokecollege


My dear friends, do you read music? Unfortunately, I don’t. But even if I did, I expect that the experience of reading a piece of music off a page will be quite different from actually hearing it played. And I wonder if the same might not be said about the Trinity. As we know, the doctrine of the Trinity is the way we make sense of how God can be both one and three at the same time. We do it by saying that God is a Trinity of persons – Father, Son & Spirit – sharing the dignity of a single substance. But simply knowing how to recite the formula is not enough. For, like musical notation on a page, in addition to being read, the doctrine also needs to be played and heard, for its intended effect to be more fully experienced.


Our readings help us to do this by highlighting a key aspect of the doctrine that is easily missed, namely, God’s deep desire to communicate, to connect, even to commune with us. The first reading does this by re-writing the story of creation. It tells us that God’s first creation – created even before the oldest of his works – is Wisdom. And a key characteristic of Wisdom is delight. Not only does Wisdom delight God, by being ever at play in his presence, she also delights in the company of human beings like us. Created Wisdom connects us with the God who is present in all that God creates. So we might say that God’s first gift to us, even before we ever existed, is the gift of connection.


Yet so strong is God’s desire to connect that God isn’t satisfied with doing it through a creature like Wisdom. God also chooses to reach out to us personally. The second reading reminds us that, through the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus – the second person of the Trinity – we are given privileged access to God. An access that we enjoy, not just by pondering the beauty of nature, but also by finding solace in the Crucified and Risen Christ, whenever we suffer. In the company of Christ, our sufferings bring patience, perseverance, and a hope that does not deceive us, because it flows from the love that the Spirit pours into our hearts.


This is how the same Spirit leads us into the complete truth. Which includes the consoling message that, contrary to what our daily experiences may sometimes lead us to believe, our God is not distant, or disinterested, or disconnected from us. No, the God in whom we profess belief, is not just a Unity in splendid isolation, but a Trinity in constant communion. Drawing us into the loving embrace of Father, Son, and Spirit, and sending us forth to reach out to others. But to enjoy the music of this truth more completely, we need to go beyond reading it off a page, or preaching it from a pulpit. Above all, we need to pray. For prayer is how we let God connect with us. And isn’t this what God has gathered us here at this Mass to do? Amid the different struggles we may each have to face, we come to experience together a prayerful connection with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.


Sisters and brothers, if music is meant more to be heard than to be read, then what can we do to help one another better enjoy the Trinity’s consoling and challenging melodies today?

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Between Meetings & Connection

7th Sunday of Easter (C)


Readings: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 96 (97): 1-2b, 6-7, 9; Apocalypse 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20; John 17: 20-26

Picture: cc Constantin Pilavios


My dear friends, if you were asked to name just one thing that the pandemic has taught us, what would it be? For me, it’ll be the difference between meetings and connections. Over the past two years, despite movement restrictions, we’ve still been able to continue holding meetings of different kinds on digital platforms like Zoom. And yet, helpful as this has been, hasn’t the multiplication of online meetings also served to heighten our sense of disconnection… with ourselves, with others, and even with God? Don’t we see signs of  this disconnection in the rise in mental health issues among us, along with more frequent reports of arguments and fights breaking out in public spaces, including here in church?


But if technology hasn’t quite addressed our deep human need for connection, then what can? This is a question that the scriptures help us to ponder today. In the gospel, not only does Jesus connect prayerfully with his heavenly Father, he also includes in that connection, all of his disciples, both present and future. He prays that we may all be one, that we may always enjoy a deep connection with one another. And, interestingly, the Lord describes this connection in terms of being at a particular place. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am… But where exactly is this place where the Lord is?


We know that, while still on earth, Jesus was often moving from place to place. And yet, whether it was in the manger at Bethlehem or the wedding at Cana, in the Garden of Gethsemane or the Cross on Calvary, didn’t the Lord always obediently remain in the loving will of his Father, no matter the cost? And didn’t he express this love as much in the tender compassion he showed to the sick and to sinners, as in the firm correction he offered to the self-righteous?


This spiritual place, where Jesus always remained, is also where we find the main characters in the other two readings today. In the first reading, Stephen receives a vision, in which he sees heaven thrown open… and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. And this profound connection with God is experienced precisely while Stephen is walking in the footsteps of Jesus, by faithfully and lovingly proclaiming the Good News, even in the face of persecution and death.


Similarly, in the second reading, while exiled on the island of Patmos for preaching the gospel, John also receives a revelation from heaven. He too experiences a connection with God, not by sight, but through hearing. I, John, heard a voice speaking to me… And one key message that John hears, and is moved to repeat, is the call to come! The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ … Then let all who are thirsty come… To come to that same spiritual location where true connection is experienced, the place that is for us also at once a process and a person: Jesus, who is our Way and Truth and Life.


Sisters and brothers, while meetings can be held both on-site and online, true and lasting connections are enjoyed only in Christ. What will we do to remain in him today and every day?

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Homemaking

6th Sunday of Easter (C)


Readings: Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29; Psalm 66 (67): 2-3, 5-6, 8; Apocalypse 21: 10-14, 22-23; John 14: 23-29

Picture: cc EU Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid


My dear friends, are there any homemakers among us this evening? What does it mean to be a home-maker? For me, the word brings to mind someone – usually a woman – who stays home seeing to house chores and caring for children. But is that all? We know that, more than just a solid roof over the head – important as that is – a home is also meant to be a safe refuge, a healing haven, for the tired and sometimes broken heart. A place to find true rest and peace. But how do we make and maintain such a precious place?


This is the question that the scriptures invite us to ponder. And it’s helpful to begin with the second reading, which offers a stirring description of the heavenly Jerusalem, the holy city, our eternal home. At its periphery, the city is surrounded by high walls and twelve gates. So that it is not only safe and secure, but also accessible and welcoming. At the centre of the city, where we might expect the temple to be located, we find instead the reassuring presence and radiant glory of the Lord God Almighty, and of the Lamb.


High walls for protection, hospitable gates for inclusion, and the glory of God and of his Christ for illumination. This is what our heavenly home, our final destination, looks like. But how do we get there? In the gospel, the Lord shows us the way. It begins with an encounter and an ever deepening relationship with Jesus himself. A loving relationship, cultivated by keeping the Lord’s word, and resulting in an experience of home-coming. If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him. This presence of God – Father, Son and Spirit – in the heart brings a deep peace, which the world cannot give. A peace that is more a gift to be claimed and safeguarded, than a wage to be earned, or a prize to be won.


And this gift of peace is not just an individual experience. It is also meant for the whole church. In the first reading, during a time of crisis and conflict, occasioned by the spread of unauthorised and false teaching, the apostles and elders gather to seek God’s guidance. Then, through chosen delegates, these vigilant leaders at the centre extend to the vulnerable gentile Christians at the periphery protection, inclusion and illumination, encouragement and peace.


My dear friends, I’m not sure if you’ll agree with me, but I believe our experience of home is under considerable stress. Much as the pandemic may have brought some families closer, it has also been a trial for many others, particularly the more vulnerable. Blurring the crucial line between work and rest, aggravating mental and emotional fragilities, and heightening hidden familial dysfunctions. In our local church too, hasn’t the recent news of abuses from the past caused some of us to wonder how safe our ecclesial home really is?


Sisters and brothers, at a time when many are yearning for a renewed experience of home, what must we do to become better home-makers, for ourselves and for our families, for our church and for our world today?