Wednesday, March 27, 2024

How do we as Christians broach and appreciate the grace of God?


The season and time for the penitential services in the archdiocese has just ended, as we are currently in the period called Holy Week.  Twive a year, the Archdiocese organizes penitential services in all our parishes to allow the people of God's church to come and encounter God's mercy and forgiveness through the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  These celebrations are organized to encourage the congregation to experience God's underserving love and mercy through the forgiveness of their sins which may have kept them away from the Mass.  In the process of the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation, there is a part where the penitent declares when he or she last went for confession.  There is always a tinge of sadness in me as a confessor priest to hear the penitent say that the last time they went for confession was at the last penitential service.  There are only two times a year that these penitential services are held for the congregation - once in Lent, and the other in the period of Advent.

I say 'tinge of sadness' because there is a certain revelation that the experience of God's great mercy and forgiveness is so blatantly missed that the penitent sees no reason why they ought to make confession as regularly as once every month.   Just leave it to the two times when these services are organized.  They obviously must have missed the point, and I do hope that I am wrong, but I dont want them to take God's mercy and forgiveness for granted.

One of the most dangerous and risky things about our human lives is that there is the sad possiblity of being used to sin.  Hard as we try to inculcate a sense of moral righteousness in our poeple, there is a sad prevalance of habitual sin in the lives of so many people.  The sad truth is that some people can be so used to some sins that they are in fact comfortable with being in a state of sin for the most part of their lives.

No canonized saint in the Church's history was a person who was a habitual sinner.  So many of them pursued the virtue of holiness that they were in fact habitual confessors.

Whenever Good Friday comes along, it never fails to strike me that it is on that one Friday in history when Jesus died on the shameful cross on Calvary, that there was a blatant demonstration of how much God loves us, who for the most part, are terrible and unworthy sinners.  Jesus nailed on the cross and suffering so unmistakably was a genuine show of the extent of God's love for his sinful children.  However, the sad truth may be that this fact is so missed and unseen that so many people display the crucifix on their front doors of their homes, but are still mired in habitual sin, forgetting and taking for granted how much God loves us.

Every Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance in an adoration room is Jesus himself, exposed for veneration and serves to remind us all about the extent of God's immense love for his wayward children.  Perhaps the fact that many adoration rooms are often empty and unvisited just shows how little the laity truly appreciate the love and mercy that caused Jesus to transform humble bread into his sacred body for all for their needed spiritual nourishment.

As a priest, this is a clear sign to me that one of my most important tasks as a shepherd of souls is to remind the laity of this incessantly through my preaching and teaching.  I must never tire of this task as it is something that God wills for me to do as a vital part of my priesthood and vocation.  I just pray that the people will never tire of hearing this but instead, change their ways and attitude toward the Lord in his presence in their lives.

It was theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who coined the term 'Cheap grace" when he wanted to highlight the cost of discipleship.  People are accepting cheap grace when they take the grace that God has granted them for granted.  Deeply appreciating the cost of our salvation is one of the hallmarks of a saint.  May less and less people just receive forgiveness from God without repentance.  True gratitude for God's undeserved mercy changes one's life.  Let us live new and profoundly gratitude for God's amazing grace every day of our lives.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Why is Jesus' Ancestry so dysfunctional?

As Christians, we believe that Jesus is God.  This fundamental belief makes it easy for us to accept and follow many things in the Christian tradition, and it includes the many hymns that we hear during Christmas time.  And because we believe that Jesus is God, we also silently have the belief that Jesus’ family tree and bloodline must have been perfect.  However, it was Raymond Brown, the renowned biblical scholar, who said that Jesus’ bloodline was really far from perfect, and we need to reject thoughts that Jesus must have been descended from a line of perfect, scandal-free and bad history.  And this is insightfully true, because there is much in his origins that is rather strikingly jolting, perhaps as shocking as any contemporary church scandal.


Within the genealogy of Jesus, the there are in fact many sinners, liars and schemers, like there are in the lives of many of the canonized saints, honest people, and the heroic lives of the men and women of faith.


In Jesus’ genealogy, there are a number of men and women who were not the stalwarts of the love, charity, faithfulness and purity of Jesus.  To be clear, there was Abraham who unfairly banished Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, who rationalized that God favors some people over others; and then there’s Jacob who stole his brother Esau’s birthright; and of course, David who committed adultery and then had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah the Hittite, murdered so as to cover up an unwanted pregnancy David created in order to marry her.


And of course, there were the few women named in the genealogy who were remarkable for the wrong reasons.  The gospels don’t mention Sarah, Rebekah or Rachel who were regarded as holy women.  Rather, the following get mentioned – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.    Tamar was a Canaanite woman who seduces her father-in-law so that she can have a child.  Rahab was another Canaanite woman (an outsider) who is in fact a prostitute.  Ruth was another outsider (a Moabitess) and of course, Bathsheba, the woman David commits adultery with who loses her husband when David plans to have him murdered to cover up his secret love affair.


Isn’t it interesting to know that these four named women were  either strange or scandalous, yet they paved the way to give us Jesus.  And it is no accident that these four woman are linked to Mary, Jesus’ mother, since she too found herself in a taboo pregnancy and in a marital situation that was deemed strange and perculiar. 


Whenever I get to read the genealogy of Jesus at Mass, I always tend to glace at the congregation to see if there are any shocked or flabbergasted looks as the names of Jesus’ ancestors are read out.  Without a doubt, there would be quite a few faces that are wide awake, but puzzled whenever some names are mentioned, and it is not because of my bad pronunciation of their names.  They know that some of these names are quite simply taboo to be listed in Jesus’ genealogy.  Quite often, I come to the conclusion that they would rather that Jesus come from a perfect and faultless, and scandal-free bloodline.  Yet, the axiom that “God writes straight with crooked lines” is true, even where Jesus is concerned.  There are some of the names in the list that have nary any specialness or significance.  Jesus’ human blood was a result of a mixture of the great and the small, the holy and the not-so-holy as well.


The hard truth is that we may have very high standards for Christ.  But there’s a downside to this – we may be forgetting that we too, are also responsible to continue the story of Jesus’ incarnation.


Jesus’ genealogy shows that God did not get stopped by the scheming and the scandalous.  God uses the pure and the impure.  This raises our own standards in life for ourselves, because we too, can be usable by God to write his way into the life of this world.  We cannot too easily exclude ourselves from being people who can be effectively used by God to bring his mercy and love into a world that aches and longs for God’s presence in its very existence.  Don’t write ourselves off too easily. 


This gives us so much hope.  None of us is too sinful to be used by God to continue the incarnation of Jesus in the world.  God can use us, simple or dysfunctional that we think we are, to bring the presence of Jesus to the world.  And I believe that this hidden truth is a truism that has not been addressed loudly enough to give everyone hope in this life and it should not be a hidden secret kept because of the fear of embarrassment.  If it is, it will be a shame.


Friday, September 22, 2023

The Overiding Despair of Boredom

There is a part of me that has his eyes on myself and sometimes makes certain judgments based on what he sees.  It has to be that vain part of me that is way too concerned about how the self is behaving and how others see me.  Lately, it has been quite clear to me that this other self of me sees Fr Luke as a person who is feeling the dreariness of being bored in life.  How can one emerge healthily if one views life as somewhat boring and unexciting?  I believe this is a perennial question that bothers and upsets many many people.


My spiritual readings are wide and varied.  One of the things I read often are the spiritual musings of the spiritual gurus in life.  The acclaimed writer and thinker Fr Ronald Rolheiser is one of my regular pursuits, and it was most endearing to find that he wrote a blog on boredom.  In the way that a master of novices enlightens the minds of the disciples under him, Fr Rolheiser’s writing enlightened me with his insight on boredom.  In a nutshell, he asks his readers why is it that despite the world giving us human beings all sorts of gadgets and technological devices to link us to everything, we are still not insulated against boredom?  The result is that we still wrestle with boredom because stimulation doesn’t make for meaning.  We are bored because so many of us do not take a deeper interest in people and things. 


I am not sure if it is because I exist now as a Catholic Priest that I find that lately I have been taking a deeper and deeper interest in the very person and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.  In my moments of prayer and meditation, I am often just focused on the very life of Jesus, and in my mind’s eye, see him in his ministry activities, moving from place to place and speaking to the people of Israel, loving them, touching them and healing them.  But I do not do one thing that is even more necessary.  I do not enter into his mind and see as Jesus sees.  I only observe as an outsider, akin to a reporter viewing an activity so that he can write a report worthy of being published on paper for others to read.


Fr Rohr tells us that the word interest is derived from two Latin words: inter (inside) and esse (being) which, when combined, connote being inside of something.  This means that things are interesting when we are interested enough to really get inside of them.  The key to my being no longer bored in life is to get inside of the mind and heart of Jesus when I enter into my moments of meditation.


I realise that I may have been experiencing boredom in life largely because I was too internally impoverished and self-centered to take a genuine interest in the people I encounter and in the case of my prayer, when I fail to take a genuine interest in the person of Jesus.  And it was Einstein who said that ‘Experience is not what happens to us, it’s what we do with that happens to us’


This enlightenment puts a whole new dimension into my spiritual life.  It makes going to the Adoration Room such a large and expansive encounter.  I pray that you, my reader, are able to comprehend and are inquisitive enough to want to pursue this journey in your spiritual walk in life.  It will change everything for you, God willing. 

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Forgiveness is often overrated and under applied in life

As a priest who very frequently hears the confessions of penitents, I must admit that I very seldom hear my penitents confess that they have withheld the forgiveness of someone or a group of people who had caused them some pain and turmoil some time ago.  It’s not that these hurts do not occur in people, but it does take a special grace from God to allow people who have been hurt in the past, to look at the hurt that they have nursed in their hearts, and make that often painful decision to let that pain go by extending the needed forgiveness to their tormentors.  I have asked some people why is it that past hurts are so difficult to forgive and let go of.  The answer takes me often by surprise, leaving me somewhat dumbfounded.  The most common answer is that they haven’t heard the apology from their tormentors, causing them to withhold the extension of the balm of forgiveness.  I say that it is a balm because only when forgiveness is given from a willing heart that it truly becomes something that heals and soothes the aching heart.  This is also chiefly because true forgiveness is not a quid-pro-quo agreement, where the forgiveness is extended is only dependent on the hearing of a sincere word or act of sorrow and apology.  I say this with firmness because I am truly convinced that forgiveness in its purest and selfless form can only come when it is a decision to love. 


While I am quite aware that deciding to love parties that have caused pain and hurt in the heart is an enormous and hugely challenging effort that is more than herculean, Jesus himself made this clear in his teaching.  He addressed this when he gave us the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus made it clear that forgiveness becomes singularly the most important of all virtues, and it does decide whether we go to heaven or not.  It was Fr Ron Rolheiser who said that our place at the eternal banquet of heaven is only open to us if we are open to eating with everyone who is willing to sit down everyone – including those who may have been our chief persecutors on this earth.  Only we can open our hearts sufficiently to sit down with everyone for eternity.


The character of Jennifer (played by Ali MacGraw) had a very dangerous remark about love in the movie Love Story.  She told Oliver (played by Ryan O’Neil) that “love means never having to say you’re sorry).  If there is a dangerous line that should never be adopted as truth, it is this line.  Not having to say “I’m sorry” in a relationship doesn’t mean that there is love.  Love is when you are so aware that you must not do anything that would cause you to apologise in the end.  If love means never having to say “I’m sorry”, then the sacrament of reconciliation in the Catholic Church should not even exist.  The truth is that each time a penitent enters a confessional, he or she is apologizing to God for having acted wrongly in life.  If we do not love God, it makes the confession of sins superfluous.


So, if after reading this blog, you realize that you have been carrying a heavy burden of unforgiveness in your heart, you may be traveling with a bit too much unnecessary baggage.  You will walk with a greater degree of lightness in your heart after you have made the decision to forgive by extending love to your enemies in life.  Hear God reminding you to love your enemies, as it prepares you a place in Heaven’s eternal banquet of love. 


Forgive, and travel light.