Monday, January 23, 2017

Amazed and astonished we should be. But we aren't, and we suffer the consequences.

The one stupendous thing about Christianity is that it believes that not only is God’s word true and wonderful, but far more incredible is that God’s word became flesh.  Christmas primarily celebrates this fact, and we Christians see this phrase so often, rolling it off our tongues with such frequency that we hardly ever stop to think about what this implies, and how this even affects us as human beings.

There are indeed so many dimensions (both theological and spiritual) to appreciate God’s word becoming flesh.  The traditional Catholic view has taken this quite literally when we say that at each Eucharistic celebration the bread and wine are consecrated to become the body and blood of Christ.  Bread becomes body.  And because it is the body of Christ, it is worthy of worship and adoration.  It does take a leap of faith to believe that the small white round host of wheat actually becomes the body of Christ, but it is what it is because of what Jesus instituted at the Last Supper, where he became the New Covenant. 

It is easy to become rather blasé and nonplussed about something that we see and encounter on a regular basis.  Even the most alert and attentive of minds can experience ennui and be jaded about very spectacular things.  Just ask any person who on a daily basis due to work or just by virtue of their place of habitation, gets to go to places or see things that most people only get to experience once in their lifetimes or only on very special occasions.  Singaporeans who live in equatorial Singapore make long and arduous trips to Iceland just to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis and come back home feeling like they have managed to tick something big off their bucket lists, while to Icelanders, this must be just something that they constantly see above them each time winter comes around.  The Chinese have a saying that imparts this truth.  In phonetics, it reads shao jian duo guai, or translated roughly it means “things seldom encountered are largely regarded as strange”.  It takes purposeful effort on one’s part to keep oneself from being indifferent and phlegmatic to familiarity, especially when it can bring one to the border of contempt. 

How do we then as Catholics keep ourselves from any sense of nonchalance each time we find ourselves before the Eucharistic Lord?  As a celebrant and a presider at Masses, I do have the inestimable privilege to pray the words of transubstantiation and effect the change of substance of bread and wine into the essence of the Body and Blood of Christ.  I have an active role that always humbles and grounds me, keeping me from having any over inflated sense of self-importance. 
But to the layperson in the congregation, it does appear to be something that one has to consciously be in a state of awareness that what is happening in the sanctuary is heaven coming to earth. 

Sacraments are not magic.  What happens whenever sacraments are celebrated are beyond the senses of taste and touch, even though our encounter of them engages our senses.  Perhaps the truth is that this generation is so attuned to the spectacle made believable through the movies and special effects that we have become lazy to activate our will power to fan the dying embers of our belief into dancing tongues of fire.  In this way, I concur with theologian Timothy Keller that as a people, we have lost the ability to be astonished. 

In his book “Hidden Christmas”, he reflects with remarkable depth on the person and faith of Mary, our Blessed Mother.  It is not so much that it is because Keller is a Presbyterian Pastor and Theologian that makes this something remarkable.  It is his intuition and God-centeredness of his reflection that makes him a theologian in the true sense of the word – he is theo-logic.  The logic that Keller lives and breathes resonates in firmly centering God at the place of greatest importance. 

Mary, he reflects, was a person who saw the wisdom in pondering anew.  There is a note of amazement at the fact the she was chosen for this momentous and monumental honour of being the mother of God.  We as baptized Christians should likewise be just as amazed and awed that God would give us, together with all our flaws and imperfections, a gift as incredible as the promise of eternal life and a life of grace. 

The more we are truly and deeply touched by this adoption of us by God out of love, the less will sin and all that sin represents have power or influence on our lives.  How do we keep this constantly in our consciousness?  That would be the lifelong task of being rooted in prayer, and a willingness to live only within the narrow limits of what our own lives dictate and revolve around.  Amazement, astonishment and being delighted in God always require humility as a fundament in attitude.  God himself was humble to take on flesh and be incarnated for our sake.  It is truly a big deal. 

As the 45th President of the United States of America took to the floor to dance with his wife on the evening of his inaugural celebrations, the song that they danced to was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”.  While Donald Trump may truly have done things his way and reached the highest office in the USA his way, having that rhetoric underpinning all that we do in life is most likely not going to help us in being aware of our salvation in Christ. 

Our salvation will never be attained simply because we did things ‘our way’. 


  1. Beautiful sharing and stark reminder. Thank you for writing this and bringing what sometimes appears as routine to its true and amazing nature. God bless.

  2. How do we then as Catholics keep ourselves from any sense of nonchalance each time we find ourselves before the Eucharistic Lord?

    Celebrating the feast of the Conversion of St Paul today, led me to reflect that sometimes, one has to be totally blind or helpless – before one is forced to put oneself into the hands of God. It seems such a paradox that it is in darkness that one sees light.....and is then able to appreciate and marvel at the beauty and clarity of this light. It may not be the sudden bright light that blinded St Paul but a kindly light that slowly reveals what child-like faith has told us to hold on to all this while. And it is this gradual revelation that affirms one’s faith - for it comes hand in hand with the recognition and appreciation of the Promise given and the Gift bestowed.

    Like you said it has to start with an awareness but has to be followed by a mindfulness that comes from a heart willing to be patient to spend at least a short span of time in preparation . One has to be like a child prepared to be surprised or astonished and yet, ultimately – it is at a time of His choosing whether He grants these perceptible graces..........his presence, his peace, his tenderness, his joy.....and even his uncompromising firmness.

    God bless u, Fr.