Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday in the 19th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of Saint Clare, Virgin
Taxed Unto Glory

Readings: Ezekiel 1:2-5, 24-28c; Psalms 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14; Matthew 17:22-27
Picture: CC Paul Keleher

Your glory fills all heaven and earth… This is our response to the psalm today. It’s a familiar phrase, one that we may mouth with such ease and confidence, without so much as a second thought to its awesome significance. And yet we may well wonder at the extent to which we truly believe what we are saying. Do we even begin to grasp the meaning of what we are proclaiming? By these words, we speak of the ongoing presence and action of God in all of creation. We declare our firm belief that God is to be found not just in the most obvious places and experiences that we commonly consider sacred, but that God’s glory fills all heaven and also all earth. That we are not surprised and even shocked by this declaration is likely a sign of how jaded we are, of how routine our worship has become.

That this is a belief that is far from easy to grasp is clear when we carefully consider our readings today. Each of them presents us with an experience. The one in the first reading is quite obviously a God-experience, what is called, in more technical terms, a theophany. The prophet describes his vision of God’s glory. It is a tremendously awe-inspiring experience. The senses of the prophet are bombarded by extraordinary sights and sounds, and perhaps even smells. There is flashing of lightning, loud noises, strange animals, and a being seated high up on a throne, shrouded in fiery brilliance. The vision leaves us in no doubt that God is far above anything or anyone we poor mortals can ever imagine. We may well imagine how the prophet felt at this sight. Could there have been any doubt in the prophet’s mind that what he was witnessing was anything other than the glory of God? Is it any surprise that he prostrated himself in worship?

Then, in the gospel, we find yet another experience. Jesus tells his disciples, once again, that he is going to be killed, and then raised to life on the third day. And a great sadness came over them. Notice how mundane and down-to-earth is this second experience. A man tells his friends that he is going to suffer and die. And his friends react with sorrow. There is neither fire nor smoke. Apart from Jesus’ reference to being raised again, there seems to be nothing really extraordinary here. Could the contrast with the first experience be any greater? And yet, isn’t this also an experience of the glory of God, an experience of the God who fills not just the heights of heaven, but also the depths of earth, the God who comes to us not just in moments of wonder and awe, but also in times of sorrow and pain? But, unlike the prophet in the first readings, the disciples do not recognize this experience as the theophany that it really is. They neither bow down nor worship. Can we blame them?

Should we not rather empathize with them? For don’t we too find it so very difficult for us to even begin to entertain the possibility that God can be present as much on earth as in heaven, as much in the secular as in the sacred, as much in the midst of pain and defeat as in triumph and jubilation? Isn’t this why someone like St. Clare stands out among us? Together with St. Francis, she was able to find God not just in riches but also in poverty. That we struggle to do the same is a sign of our failure to appreciate what Jesus proclaims in the second part of the gospel today. Through the rather puzzling instructions that he gives Peter in regards the paying of the Temple tax, Jesus demonstrates how closely and intimately God associates with us in His Son. In Christ, we who were once far away have been brought near. We are now no longer foreigners but sons and daughters. We are now even in the same tax bracket as the Lord! Perhaps what we need to ask for is a deeper understanding of this mystery, so that in all things, and at all times, we may learn to prostrate ourselves in worship before the Lord.

What experience of God’s glory are we being blessed with today?


  1. Those of us who watched the stunning official opening of the Beijing Olympics on Friday night can begin to appreciate what the prophet Ezekiel described in his vision of the glory of God.... the audio-visual sensation, the wave upon wave of fireworks to delight even the most jaded, the breath-taking costumes, the precision performance, the showmanship, the anticipation of what was next to come; in short, like nothing we have ever seen before.

    And yet, in a sense, the official opening underscored God's eternal glory manifested in the intellect and ingenuity he endowed humans with. Like its Creator, humanity is able to create an extravanganza like never seen before.

    On the other hand, like Father wrote, God's glory is not confined to the breath-taking and spectacular. Often-times it is as elusive as the gentle breeze. For instance, in someone sincerely seeking forgiveness from another who graciously forgives; in the struggles of a breadwinner to feed and clothe the family against all odds; a genuine, lasting conversion of someone we know. These are all manifestations of God's eternal glory. It was once said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive.

    And so, while we regale at both the spectacular and inconspicuous manifestations of God's glory, let us thank God for His Presence and on-going action in the world and universe.

  2. So very true to life - we do not count our blessings when we have them. It's only when we are sick that we wish for recovery. When we are healthy we do take much for granted.
    Just tossing this idea with my dear wife the other day whilst going to Sunset mass. To believe, one must have faith, for faith to happen, we must be humble and a humble heart knows gratitude.
    Theophany for me is in the very rising of the sun and the setting of the moon. The person sleeping next to me, breathing, and having a contented dream is what keeps my soul alive.
    Thanks be to God.

  3. Nowadays I'm not sure which is a blessing or which a curse. Am reminded of the 《塞翁失马 焉知非福》 story. Just when I was rejoicing that something that good is happening, something seemingly not so good would happen. And just when something seemingly not so good is happening, something good would happen!

    The glory of God is a man/woman who can say sincerely like St Paul (Philippians 4:11-13) that "I have learned to be content whatever happens to me. I know how to live when I need things. And I know how to live when I have plenty. In all circumstances, I have learned the secret of how to be content. I am content whether I have plenty to eat or not. I am ready for anything by Christ who gives me strength."

    Maybe nothing that happens to us is a blessing or a curse? It's our response that would determine whether we're being blessed with God's glory? If only my heart would follow my mind's reasoning and respond accordingly!

  4. I have always wondered when saying the Apostle's Creed what is meant by "I believe". It is not the same sort of believing as, say, I believe my mother is from Malaysia. It is also not the same as "know" because knowledge is somehow tied up with scientific proof. Perhaps it should be changed to: "My faith is in God the Father... etc".

    So, too, with responses to psalms. We recite them in such monotonous tones, sometimes repeating without thinking.

    What do we mean when we chant these glorious words of praise? How do we express them more meaningfully?