Sunday, June 23, 2019

Of Cooking, Consuming & Corpus Christi

Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (C)
Photo: cc Katherine Lim

My dear friends, do you like to cook? Recently I was happy to hear someone speak very enthusiastically about how much he liked to prepare food for others to enjoy. But when he went on to ask me whether I did any cooking, I was too embarrassed to admit that I practised what you might call survival cooking. I cook only to stay alive. So I responded instead by telling him that we both would actually make a great team. Since he likes to cook, and I love to eat.

I was, of course, only joking. But, although I didn’t mean to at the time, I was also making a point, wasn’t I? The point being that I don’t have to know how to cook to know how to eat. In fact, I don’t even need to know where the food I eat comes from, let alone how it was prepared. For example, a survey done back in 2012 revealed that 36% of young adults in the UK between the ages of 16 and 23 did not know that bacon comes from pigs. While 11% of them didn’t know that eggs come from chickens. And yet, ignorant though they were of the origins of bacon and eggs, we can be sure that these same young people had no difficulty enjoying it for breakfast.

This is actually so obvious to us that we don’t need to be reminded of it. We all quite naturally assume that we don’t have to know how food is produced in order to consume it ourselves. And yet, it is precisely because of this assumption of ours that we need the solemn feast of Corpus Christi.

For isn’t it true that too many of us approach the Eucharist in the same way that I responded to my friend’s question? With the unspoken assumption that we can receive its benefits without being continually mindful of its origins? I can’t be completely sure, but I suspect many of us Catholics view the Eucharist the way our society teaches us to view all the other things in our lives. Merely as an object to be consumed and nothing more. And just as I can consume most things while remaining ignorant of how they are produced, so too with the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Or so I think.

Isn’t this why some of us find the Mass so boring? Although we may be commended for making the effort to come to church on Sunday, isn’t it true that some of us are so focused on receiving Holy Communion, that we don’t feel too bad if we miss some of the other stuff that happens before and after? Anything before the gospel perhaps. And definitely everything after the host has been safely deposited into our mouths.

And yet, isn’t this also why I may find it such a challenge to appreciate the significance of what happens at Mass on Sunday for everything else that goes on in my life the rest of the week? For if the Mass is nothing more than just another opportunity to consume something, then what additional value can it possibly have for me, who already spend the rest of my life continually consuming everything else anyway?

Could this be why it’s possible for me to even spend long periods in the adoration room, consuming the sacred host with my eyes, without necessarily experiencing any improvement in how I relate to the world outside? Without my becoming any less selfish and any more loving?

Could it be, my dear friends, that my tendency to separate the consumption of the Eucharist from its origins actually prevents me from receiving its benefits? For isn’t it striking that, in our Mass readings today, the consumption of spiritual food is intimately connected with its production?

In the second reading – which, as you know, is the same one we read on Holy Thursday – Jesus offers food to his disciples in a very particular way. First, the Lord performs several specific preparatory actions. The same actions that he performs in the gospel, and which the priest performs at Mass. The Lord takes and blesses (or gives thanks). He then breaks and gives. Second, the disciples are asked to do this as a memorial of me. To ensure that every time they prepare and consume the Eucharistic food, they bear firmly in their minds and hearts its true source. Its deeper origin, not just at the Table of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, but also, ultimately, on the Wood of the Cross on Good Friday. For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming (the Lord’s) death.

It is only by doing this, by preparing food the way Christ prepares it – while simultaneously recalling the Lord’s loving sacrifice on the Cross – that we, who call ourselves his followers, are able to do what Jesus tells his disciples to do in the gospel. Give them something to eat yourselves. Not to remain focused only on consuming what is offered to us. But to also be mindful of the need to feed the crowds of people who still experience a hunger the world cannot satisfy.

At the Eucharistic Table, my dear friends, those who are fed are also motivated and empowered to feed others as well. Those who truly receive the Gift of Christ’s Life, are prompted to make a return gift of their own lives. Allowing themselves to be taken and blessed, broken and given. So that other lives might be nourished as well.

In this way, all of us who claim to follow Christ truly become his Body. Through him, with him, and in him, we too become priests like Melchizedek of old. A people whose lives are a blessing to God and to others. And, in this way too, the prayer that we offered at the beginning of Mass finds its answer. This is the proper way for us so to revere the sacred mysteries of (the Lord’s) Body and Blood, that we may always experience in ourselves the fruit of (His) redemption. For, contrary to the assumption I had when responding to my friend’s question, we can only be nourished by the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ by participating fully and actively in its production. At the Table of the Lord, I can only eat by also learning how to cook.

Sisters and brothers, if all this is true – if our being fed by the Lord is intimately connected to the feeding of others as well – then what must we do, both as individuals and as a community, to become better chefs today?

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Remembering the King

Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity (C)
Video: YouTube Iftadulsadab Kashif

My dear friends, do you remember the story of King Kong? As you may recall, King Kong is the title of a movie first produced in 1933, and later remade by Peter Jackson in 2005. In the remake, a film crew travels by boat to a remote island, populated by prehistoric creatures, including King Kong, a majestic 25-foot gorilla. Unexpectedly, this gigantic ape falls in love with Ann, the lead actress on the film crew, and takes it upon himself to protect her from all harm. In a spectacular sequence, Kong successfully fights off a pack of giant flesh-eating dinosaurs, while continually passing the tiny actress from the safety of one huge hairy hand to another.

Unfortunately for Kong, however, his love for Ann results in him being captured and brought to New York City, where he promptly escapes and continues to do what he had been doing on the island. He keeps fighting to protect Ann. Eventually, he carries her up the Empire State Building, where Kong is tragically shot and killed by war planes. But not before ensuring that Ann is safely deposited at the top of the building.

The story is, of course, a work of fiction. But it may be helpful for us to imagine what it’s like to be Ann. What it’s like to be loved in such an inexplicable, total and self-sacrificing way. What does it feel like to be held in those powerful yet protective hands, to gaze into those fiercely determined yet tender eyes, and to watch the life gradually fade from them, all for one’s own sake?

It may sound strange, my dear friends, but I believe it is by pondering questions like these that we begin to appreciate the deep Mystery we are celebrating today. It is by placing ourselves in the shoes of someone like Ann – by recalling what it feels like to be loved in a similarly inexplicable, total and self-sacrificing way – that we can hope to penetrate the significance of our belief that God is a Trinity of Persons united in a single divine Substance.

For the doctrine of the Trinity can only be appreciated from a very particular location. The same spiritual place that St Paul describes in the second reading, when he says that it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace… What is this state of grace? Isn’t it that place of safety where we have been deposited by the love of God? The same inexplicable, total and self-sacrificing love expressed so eloquently and majestically in the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ? Not unlike how King Kong leaves Ann safe at the top of the Empire State Building, even as he himself slowly slips away to his death?

Except that, we believe God does not simply slip away and abandon us. For, in the gospel, before going to his Passion, Jesus speaks to his disciples about the coming of the Spirit of truth, who will lead them to the complete truth. So that, if we were to think of Jesus and the Spirit as two hands that the loving Father stretches out, to hold us and to protect us, then it is as though the Father were passing us from the safety of one hand to another. Much like how King Kong passes his beloved Ann from one hand to another, even as he fights to protect her from the monsters that seek to devour her.

What does it feel like, my dear friends, to be at a spiritual location such as this? To find myself in this state of grace? What happens to me, when I begin to appreciate in some measure the inexplicable, total and self-sacrificing love that has been and continues to be showered upon me by God? The love that we have been pondering throughout the beautiful season of Easter, which ended last week with the feast of Pentecost?

Perhaps, when I do arrive at this place, I may be moved to ask the same question posed in the psalm: what is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him? Or, in other words, who am I, Lord, that you, who are so majestic and mighty, should l lay down your life for me in Christ? That you should commit yourself to remaining forever present to me in the Spirit? Who am I that you should keep protecting me from every evil that threatens to devour my life? Who am I that you should even delight to be with me, as the first reading assures me you do. I who sometimes can’t even abide my own company. Who am I that you, who are so full of life, should empty yourself so completely for me through Christ and in the Holy Spirit? Who am I, Lord, that you should love me in such an inexplicable, total and self-sacrificing way?

And what might happen to me, my dear friends, when I do indeed ask myself questions such as these? Perhaps then there will be ignited within me a tiny spark of that divine Love that blazes so intensely for me. And as I begin to burn with this same love, perhaps I will also learn to do what Paul asks the Romans to do in the second reading. To take pride in my sufferings, instead of constantly complaining about them, or trying to run away from them. For, when borne with love, these sufferings lead me closer to Christ.

Perhaps I will also learn to delight in the beauty of God’s creation. To delight even in the often messy circumstances of my own life, and of the lives of the people among whom I live and work every day. Perhaps I will also learn to reach out my hands, to protect those around me who are most at risk, even as God continues to reach out God’s hands to protect me.

My dear friends, at the end of the movie King Kong, as the great ape lies dead, a puzzled reporter asks, why did he do that…? To which someone else replies It was beauty killed the beast. Meaning, presumably, that it was because of the beauty of the actress that Kong died. But even if this may be true of the great ape, it is not quite what we believe about God. For we believe that God loves us not because of any merit or beauty of ours, but simply because God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them (1 John 4:16).

Sisters and brothers, as we celebrate the marvellous love that is the Most Holy Trinity, perhaps it is fitting that we should also ask ourselves where exactly are we choosing to abide today?

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Learning the Language of Love

Solemnity of Pentecost (C)
Video: YouTube uCatholic

My dear friends, do you know why we have two ears and only one mouth? According to a well-known saying, it’s so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. Which makes a lot of sense, when we stop to think about it. Seeing as how our ability to speak is so dependent upon our ability to hear, that those who are born deaf often have difficulties learning to talk.

This close connection between speaking and listening is something that we might do well to bear in mind today, as we celebrate this solemn feast of Pentecost. For perhaps one of the most striking effects of the coming of the Holy Spirit – at least as it is described in the first reading – is how the Spirit endows the disciples with the gift of speech. The power to speak foreign languages. To preach, in the respective native tongues of their listeners, about the marvels of God.

I’m not sure about you, my dear friends, but I find my attention easily captured by this apparently miraculous gift of tongues. On occasion, I even wonder to myself why I don’t seem to have this same useful power. Why it isn’t easier for me to learn a foreign tongue. To be honest, I find it a challenge just to hear confessions in a second language, let alone to preach in a third or a fourth

And yet, engrossed as I often am by this power to speak in different tongues, it’s easy for me to forget that speaking is not the only gift that the Spirit brings at Pentecost. A closer look at the first reading uncovers another blessing, as important as the first. Do you know what it is? No prizes for guessing, since it’s really quite obvious, if only we take the time to look.

While the first paragraph of the reading describes the effects of the Spirit’s coming upon the disciples, the second paragraph shifts our attention to their listeners. It tells us of the amazement and astonishment of these foreigners from every nation under heaven. Surely, they say to themselves, all these men speaking are Galileans? How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language?

The obvious answer to their question is, of course, the one provided in the first paragraph. They are able to understand the preaching, because the Holy Spirit has given the disciples the gift of speech. But isn’t it also reasonable to suppose that, along with the power of expression bestowed upon the disciples, the Spirit has also given to their listeners a corresponding power of receptivity?  That the gift of speech comes with an accompanying gift of hearing. How else to explain their openness to the Good News, if the Spirit were not simultaneously at work, as much in the listeners as in the speakers? Perhaps it is no accident, then, that the first reading calls these listeners devout.

Nor is it just the foreigners in the first reading who have been given the gift of hearing, the power of receptivity. Haven’t the disciples themselves received this same gift? Haven’t they been taught first to hear, in order that they might speak? Isn’t this the promise Jesus makes them in the gospel? The Advocate… will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you. In other words, even before the Spirit bestows the gift of speech, it helps the disciples to listen again to everything that Jesus has said to them in the past. Isn’t this what we ourselves have been doing the whole of Easter?

Just as any child learns to talk only by first learning to hear, so too do the disciples learn to proclaim the Good News by first being taught to hear it and to receive it, to recognise it in their own experience, and be renewed by it. This is how they learn to listen and speak in a very specific yet universally understood language. Do you know what this language is?

It is the same one through which Jesus expressed himself when he walked among us on this earth, and especially when he allowed himself to suffer, to die, and to be raised up on the Cross for us. It is also of this same language that he speaks in the gospel, when he tells his disciples, 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 language of God’s love is also what Paul writes about in the second reading, when he encourages the Roman Christians to live spiritual lives. Lives that cry out, in the intimate family dialect of God’s love, Abba, Father! In contrast, those who speak only the unspiritual worldly lingo of selfishness are doomed to die.

All of which may help me to answer the question I asked myself at the start. Why don’t I seem to have the same gift of speech the disciples were given at Pentecost? For two possible reasons. First, it may be that I’m too focused on speaking foreign languages with my tongue, when I should really be more concerned about learning to communicate Christ’s love with my whole life. And, second, just as a child learns to talk by hearing, so too do I need to beg the Spirit for the ability first to better recognise and relish God’s loving presence in my own life. Only then can I hope to point it out to others in ways they can easily understand.

My dear sisters and brothers, in our Mass readings today, although there is a striking description of the gift of speech, we actually find even more references to the gift of hearing. A gift bestowed both upon the disciples and their listeners. So that the old saying still holds true. We are given two ears and one mouth, so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

I’m reminded of these words from the late Fr John Veltri, SJ:

Teach me to listen, O God, to those nearest me,
my family, my friends, my co-workers.
Help me to be aware that no matter what words I hear,
the message is, “Accept the person I am. Listen to me.”
Teach me to listen, my caring God, to those far from me –
the whisper of the hopeless, the plea of the forgotten,
the cry of the anguished.
Teach me to listen, O God my Mother, to myself.
Help me to be less afraid to trust the voice inside —
in the deepest part of me.
Teach me to listen, Holy Spirit, for your voice —
in busyness and in boredom, in certainty and doubt,
in noise and in silence.
Teach me, Lord, to listen.

Sisters and brothers, as we bring the beautiful Season of Easter to a close, what must we do to keep allowing the Spirit to teach us to listen twice as much as we speak today?

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Where Do You Live? (Rerun)

7th Sunday in Easter (C)
Picture: cc Ade Rixon

My dear friends, if I were to ask you where you live, how would you answer? Assuming, of course, that you trust me enough to tell me the truth, and you don’t just tell me to mind my own business, very likely you’ll do what the rest of us would do. You’ll tell me your street address. But is that the only way to answer the question? What do you think?

Some of us may remember that story at the beginning of John’s Gospel, where Jesus answers this same question, where do you live, in a very different way. When two disciples of John the Baptist follow him, as the Lord is walking along the Jordan river, Jesus asks them what they are looking for. And they say to him, Rabbi, where do you live? Do you remember how Jesus responds? He doesn’t tell them his exact address. He doesn’t say Christ the King Church, 2221 Ang Mo Kio Ave 8. Instead, he invites them to come and see…

Why do you think he does that? When asked where he lives, why doesn’t Jesus just tell people his address? Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have one. At this point in the story, he has already left his family home in Nazareth, to live the life of a wandering preacher. So, very likely, his address changes from day to day. He can’t say exactly where he lives. People have to come and see for themselves.

But could there be another deeper reason for the Lord’s response? Could it be that, for Jesus, the question where do you live cannot be adequately answered by repeating names and numbers? Could it be that what he wants to share with us is not his street address, but the location of his spiritual home? Not just where he lays his head from time to time. But where his heart finds rest all of the time. Could it be that what the Lord wants is to show us where he truly lives? Where he has always lived. Even from before the foundation of the world. His eternal resting place in the loving will of his heavenly Father. And the only way Jesus can do this is by inviting us to follow him… To come and see

To discover not so much the Lord’s street address, but his true spiritual home. So that we may live where he lives, and in the way that he lives. Isn’t this what Jesus is praying for, on our behalf, in the gospel today? Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may always see the glory you have given me… To be with me where I am. In other words, to live where the Lord himself lives. Not just to join him in heaven after we die – although that is a good thing to pray for – but to live with the Lord even now, on this earth. To live in his love, just as he lives in his Father’s love. This is the awesome gift that Jesus begs for us. For you and for me.

But what does this gift look like? Do we know? We find the answer in the other two readings. In the first reading, Stephen fearlessly proclaims the gospel, and is persecuted for it. He is dragged out of the city of Jerusalem, and cruelly stoned to death. And yet, the reading tells us that, even in the face of such terrible suffering, Stephen experiences the presence of God. I can see heaven thrown open, he declares, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. Not only does Stephen see the glory of God, he is able also to imitate Jesus in forgiving his murderers. And even to pray for them. A sign that, even when he finds himself at a place of great trial, Stephen continues to make his home in the Lord. To live where Jesus lives.

We find something similar in the second reading, taken from the end of the book of Revelation. Here, the apostle John remains in exile on the island of Patmos. And yet, in his painful isolation, in his distant desolation, like Stephen, John too is able to experience the closeness of the Lord. At a time when he might so easily fall into depression and despair, John hears a voice reminding him of the identity of the One in whose hands he has entrusted his life. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End… This voice reassures John that he is not alone… I shall indeed be with you soon. And it also shows us that, even while on an island of exile, John continues to live where Jesus lives.

Sisters and brothers, in our readings today, it is clear that Stephen and John find themselves at different addresses. One is on an island, and the other is outside a city. Yet they both actually live in the same spiritual place. They share the same heavenly home. They live where Jesus lives, and in the same way that he lived. They bear witness to the good news of God’s merciful love for us. They able to look into the Lord’s glory, even as they lay down their lives for others. So that, what we find in their experience, is really the Father’s gracious answer to the Son’s fervent prayer in the gospel. Both in Stephen and in John, we find people who have received from God the gift to remain always in the presence of the Lord.

To constantly live where Jesus lives, even while we remain here on this earth. To keep making our home in the Lord, no matter what our street address may be. To somehow be able to see his face, and to hear his voice. To experience his presence, even in times of trial. Encouraging and consoling us. Accompanying and guiding us. Strengthening and inspiring us. Isn’t this what we all need so very much today? Especially those of us whose lives are often filled with stress and strain, or with loneliness and boredom. Those of us who may sometimes try to fill the emptiness within us with all sorts of apparently harmless activities that may soon become bad habits? Desperate diversions that may dull our pain for a short time, but can really do nothing to calm our restlessness, to shelter our homelessness, to heal our brokenness.

Perhaps it is especially for those of us who suffer in this way, that Jesus prays in the gospel. And the wonderful thing is that his prayer has already been heard. His request has already been granted. The gift has already been given. This is the good news that we are celebrating in this beautiful season of Easter. What we need to do is to keep taking the necessary steps to claim this gift for ourselves. To come to where the Lord lives. As did those first disciples in John’s gospel. To come and see. To surrender and to follow. And then to be sent out to help others do the same. Others who, like us, may be searching desperately for a spiritual home.

Sisters and brothers, on this 7th Sunday of Easter, if someone were to ask you where do you live?, what would your answer be?

Sunday, May 12, 2019


4th Sunday of Easter (C)
My dear friends, do you know what a siren is? What do you think of when you hear the word siren? As you know, this word has more than one meaning. If you’re like me, then perhaps the first thing you think of, when you hear this word, is a device that gives off a loud and sharp warning sound. Such as we might find on a police car or an ambulance. But that’s not the only meaning. As you may recall, the word siren also refers to a group of semi-human female creatures from Greek mythology, who use their beautiful voices to lead unsuspecting sailors to crash their ships on treacherous rocks.

Don’t you find it striking, my dear friends, that the same word could have such contrasting meanings? On the one hand, a disturbing sound that warns us of danger, and leads us to safety. On the other, a melodious voice luring us to our doom.

Well, there is no mention of sirens in our readings today. But we do find people listening to different kinds of voices. People following contrasting sounds. In the first reading, Paul and Barnabas preach the word of God in a place called Antioch in Pisidia, and some people listen to them, receive the word, and are converted to the Lord. These people heed the voice of God, and commit themselves to walking the difficult road that leads to the safety of eternal life.

On the other hand, the reading also speaks of how some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city are persuaded by the Jewish authorities to turn against Paul and Barnabas and expel them from their territory. Instead of listening to the word of God and finding life, these people follow an opposing set of voices, which will ultimately lead them to their doom.

But that’s not all. Aren’t Paul and Barnabas, as well as their Jewish opponents, themselves also following contrasting voices? The reading tells us that the Jewish authorities contradicted everything Paul said, because they were listening to an interior voice. They were prompted by jealousy. On the other hand, Paul and Barnabas are able to persevere in their mission, even to the extent of being filled with joy and the Holy Spirit, despite facing rejection and persecution. Why? Because they follow the voice of God.

What we find in the reading are two contrasting voices. Or, if you like, two different kinds of sirens. One leading people to safety, and the other to destruction.

Doesn’t this help us to better understand what Jesus is talking about in the gospel? The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life… The voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, operates like a warning siren, leading those who follow its call to the safety of eternal life. Not just eternal life after we die. But the fullness of life even while we remain on this earth. The kind of life that Paul, Barnabas, and the other disciples lived. Allowing us to experience joy, even in the midst of great struggle. To remain at peace, even when undergoing much suffering... Is there anyone here who is going through a great struggle, or undergoing much suffering?

Isn’t this also the experience that the second reading describes, when it speaks of people who have been through the great persecution, and who now stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his sanctuary? They will never hunger or thirst again… because the Lamb… will be their shepherd and lead them to springs of living water… These people find fullness of life, because they follow the Lord’s voice. A voice that speaks of love, holiness and peace.

How do you feel, sisters and brothers, when you hear all this? Don’t you desire to share the experience of those people in the second reading? Don’t you want to be among the sheep that belong to the Lord? Who follow the Shepherd’s voice and no other? If so, then isn’t it clear what we need to do? We need somehow to learn to recognise the Lord’s voice. To distinguish it from that of the enemy. We need, in other words, what Pope Francis writes about in his letter entitled Rejoice and Be Glad.

How can we know, the Holy Father asks, if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way is through discernment…. It is a gift which we must implore…. (166) And the Pope goes on to say that (Christ) asks us to examine what is within us – our desires, anxieties, fears and questions – and what takes place around us – “the signs of the times” – and thus recognise the paths that lead to complete freedom (168).

The ability to read the interior movements that I experience within my heart, and the signs of the times happening all around me. Some leading to life and safety. Others to death and destruction. This is the precious gift that we all need to pray for and to practise, as true sheep of the Good Shepherd, as faithful disciples of the Lord.

Sisters and brothers, whether we realise it or not, in each of our lives, there are two kinds of sirens sounding. Which one will you decide to follow today?

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Sing! (Rerun)

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…

My dear friends, do any of you still remember these words? They’re taken from an old song from the 1970s, sung by The Carpenters. The song is simply titled Sing. And its message is as straightforward as its name. It’s an invitation to do one thing: To sing! To sing a song! And not just any song, but a joyful song. A song that lasts your whole life long.

To be able to sing a joyful song for the whole of my life. In a sense, this is  also what we prayed for in our opening prayer just now. May your people exult for ever, O God. This is what we prayed. And what does it mean to exult, if not to sing and to dance for joy? To sing and dance for joy, not just today or tomorrow. But for ever. This is the grace we are seeking. This is the gift that’s being offered to us. 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 for us.

The first question is with what? With what do I sing? When I think of singing a song, I usually think first of using my voice. But surely it’s impossible to sing non-stop only with my voice! How will I eat or sleep? So, if not only with my voice, then with what? With what do I sing this song? We find the answer in the first reading, where the religious authorities are desperately trying to do one thing: to silence the Apostles. To stop them from spreading the gospel. To smother their song.

But the Apostles respond by doing exactly what the authorities order them not to do. They keep proclaiming the Good News of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. They keep singing their song. And they do this not just with their voices. For, in the reading, even though they are cruelly flogged, the Apostles do not allow themselves to be discouraged. On the contrary, they feel glad to have had the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of (the Lord’s) name. They rejoice even in the midst of persecution. They exult even when made to suffer for their faith. This shows that they are singing not just with their voices, but with the whole of their lives.

The second question is to whom? To whom do we sing our song? And 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 them – are doing what the Apostles do in the first reading. They are proclaiming and praising, worshiping and glorifying God. In a sense, they are singing a song. And it’s not just the angels who do this, but all the living things of creation. Every created thing is singing the same song of praise and worship. This then is the answer provided by the second reading. To whom do we sing our song? To none other than God. God is the One to whom we sing.

This is what we Christians are supposed to do: We are to sing, with our whole lives, a joyful song of praise to God. But surely this is much easier said than done, isn’t it? Difficult enough to squeeze out one hour a week for Mass on Sunday. And even then, don’t some of us find it a great challenge? Not just because the parish carpark is so full. Or the music too fast or too slow. Or the homily too long or too boring. All this may sometimes be true. But isn’t the reason why some of us find Mass such a chore also because our bodies are often too tired and stressed? Our minds too distracted? We find it hard to sing a song to God, because there is so often a different tune playing within us. A song, not of joy and praise, but of anxiety and ambition. Not of love for others, but of preoccupation with self. A song addressed not to God, but to those in the world whom we may be seeking so desperately to impress.

If all this is true, then perhaps the third and last question is the most important one. The question from where? From where do we receive our song? This is the question that the gospel helps us to answer. Here, the action takes place by the banks of the Sea of Tiberias. But more than just a physical location, this is also a spiritual place. This is where disappointed and discouraged disciples gather. People who spend a whole night, perhaps even a whole lifetime, fishing. But without much success. Here is also where Christ appears. The Crucified and Risen One. Not to judge or to scold. But to guide, to feed, and to befriend. Here, the Lord does the cooking, the serving, and the encouraging. Here, the tired find rest. The guilty are granted forgiveness. The disappointed given fresh hope.

Above all, here is where failed singers receive a new song. Simon, son of John, do you love me…? A question meant not to interrogate or to incriminate, but to heal and to console. To refresh and to inspire. To fill the heart with the power of song. The power to give glory to God. 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 into fruitfulness. Guilt and shame into mercy and mission. This, my dear friends, is the spiritual place to which we are called today. And to find it is not difficult. What we need to do is to ask the Lord for courage to face our own weaknesses – as Peter did – and the patience to wait for the Lord to appear and to minister to us. To do for us what He did for the disciples. To give us a new song to sing for all eternity.

I’m reminded of these lines from another tune…

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, the One who gave His life for us has already been raised. Love has triumphed over sin and death. How can we keep from singing?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Stand By Me

2nd Sunday of Easter
(Divine Mercy Sunday)
Video: YouTube fdbormand

When the night has come, and the land is dark,
And the moon is the only light we'll see.
No, I won't be afraid. No, I won't be afraid.
Just as long as you stand, stand by me….

My dear friends, do any of you still remember these words? As you may recall, they are taken from a song released in the 1960s, entitled Stand By Me. They describe a particular kind of experience that’s perhaps not always easy to understand. We may call it an experience of the power of presence. The one who is singing claims to feel no fear, even when facing situations as scary as the coming of the night, and the collapse of the mountains into the sea. And why is there no fear? Simply because of the presence of the one who is loved. I won’t be afraid… Just as long as you stand… by me.

The power of presence to keep fear at bay. This is what the song is about. But it’s important to note that it is not just any kind of presence that will do. It is only the presence of the one who is loved. So that the song is really about the power of relationship. The power of love. And this is also what we find in our readings on this 2nd Sunday of Easter.

In the second reading, John is exiled to the island of Patmos, for having preached God’s word and witnessed for Jesus. In the gospel, the disciples have hidden themselves in a room, for fear of the Jews. Yet, in both these readings, those facing scary situations also experience the power of presence.

In the lonely desolation of exile, John hears the consoling voice of the Crucified and Risen Christ, who continues to stand by him. Surrounded by seven golden lamp-stands, which symbolise the seven churches of God. Telling John not to be afraid, but to use his exile as an opportunity to take a sabbatical. To write a book. So that the good news might spread even further and wider.

In the terror of their self-imposed imprisonment, the disciples experience Jesus coming and standing among them. Transforming their fear into joy and peace. And not just joy and peace. For doesn’t the gospel find its continuation in the first reading? Doesn’t the initial fear of the disciples in the upper room eventually give way to their courageous ministry at the Portico of Solomon? Just as they experience Jesus standing by them and liberating them from their fear, the disciples, in their turn, go forth and stand by others, setting them free from their various afflictions.

The liberating power of presence, transforming fear into joy, and peace, and concrete acts of mercy. This is what we find in our readings today. But that’s not all. If it were, then perhaps the gospel would be so much easier for us to put into practice. For we cannot deny that the Crucified and Risen Christ is no longer present among us in exactly the same way as he was to the early disciples. They were able, it would seem, to see and to touch him. To even place their fingers into his wounds, if they wanted to. But we do not have this luxury now, do we?

And yet, our readings challenge us to continue allowing the stone which the builders rejected to become the cornerstone of our lives. To bear witness to the power of the Lord’s enduring presence among us. A presence that we now experience, no longer through physical proof, but instead only by persistent faith. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe. Happy are you who, even though you no longer have the joyful privilege of touching the Lord in his physical body, are now offered the awesome ability to recognise his liberating presence in the Body of His Church. Not just in the sacramental forms of Bread and Wine, offered here at Mass. But also in the merciful acts performed out there in the world, by all who stand by others in their time of need.

Isn’t this new and mysterious presence an even greater testimony to the power of love? A power that enables the  radiance of the beloved’s presence to be recognised even beyond the darkness of the tomb. And isn’t this the same grace we are invited to claim for ourselves, as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday? The grace to acknowledge the different ways in which the Crucified and Risen Lord insists on standing by us in the dark and scary moments of our lives, changing our fear into joy and peace and mercy.

And isn’t this something that we need especially today, when we find ourselves reeling from the news of those horrific acts of terror perpetrated on our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday? Precisely on the holiest and most brilliant of days in the Christian calendar, some have attempted to smother us in the dark night of hatred and violence and death. How should we respond? As Christians, perhaps we can do no better than to claim the gift offered to us especially at Easter. To experience anew the consoling presence of the Lord of Mercy standing in the midst of us.

When the night has come, and the land is dark,
And the moon is the only light we'll see.
No, I won't be afraid, No, I won't be afraid.
Just as long as you stand, stand by me….

Sisters and brothers, especially at Easter, we joyously celebrate our belief that Christ our Light has indeed risen! Firmly, we cling to our faith that, even in the darkest of nights, the Lord of Mercy continues to stand by us. What must we do, you and I, to better acknowledge and announce his liberating presence among us today?

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