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


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?

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Of Cars & Children, Christians & Christ…

4th Sunday of Easter (C)

(Good Shepherd Sunday)

Readings: Acts 13:14,43-52; Psalm 99 (100):1-3, 5; Apocalypse 7:9, 14-17; John 10:27-30

Picture: cc Juli

My dear friends, what’s the difference between a car and a child? There are many differences, of course! But today I have just one in mind… What do you think will happen if I were to use the key to the Jesuits’ Mitsubishi Attrage, and try to drive off in one of the many fancier vehicles in our parish carpark? Will I succeed? Surely not! The reason being that the key I’m using doesn’t belong to the car I’m trying to open. Their factory settings don’t match. Unlike a car, however, a child doesn’t have preprogrammed settings that prevent it from being stolen. Which is why children need to be diligently taught and carefully safeguarded. And not just by their families, but also by church and society. All of whom need to work together to foster a consistent culture of protection.

I mention this not just because of painful recently reported events concerning our church, but also because of what we find in our readings today. In the gospel, Jesus says something I find immensely reassuring: The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice… they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me… Or, in another translation, no one shall snatch them out of my hand… Very consoling, isn’t it? But what does it mean? Isn’t it tempting to think it means we Christians are like cars, preprogrammed to listen only to the Lord’s voice and no other? So that I’ll always remain safe, no matter what I do, or how I choose to live?

And, initially, the first reading may seem to support this view. When Paul and Barnabas preach the good news at Antioch in Pisidia, many choose to listen instead to their opponents. Only those destined for eternal life became believers. Which may give the impression that Christian discipleship is something already preprogrammed. But if that is true, why do Paul and Barnabas take such pains, at the beginning of the reading, to urge the Christians of Antioch to remain faithful to the grace God had given them? Doesn’t this imply that eternal life is less a destiny to be taken for granted than a precious gift to be diligently nurtured and carefully safeguarded?

Similarly, although the second reading presents us with an encouraging vision of a multitude of people standing safely before the throne of God, it also reminds us that these same people have reached their destination only after having been through the great persecution; only after having washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.

My dear friends, as you know, the 4th Sunday of Easter is when we typically promote vocations to the clerical and religious life. And yet, even more basic than the call to any particular state of life is the call to be held safely in the hands of the Lord. The response to which requires us – who live amid so many dangerous and seductive voices – to keep attuning our minds and hearts to the voice of the Lord.

Sisters and brothers, if eternal life in Christ is truly more like a child than a car, then what must we do, as individuals and as church, to better safeguard this precious gift of ours, so as to share it with many others today?