Monday, August 27, 2018

Blog post will take a hiatus for two weeks

I will not be writing anything for the next two weeks as I am having Chicken Pox.  Your prayers will be much appreciated.  Thank you.

Fr Luke

Monday, August 20, 2018

When our faith is shaken by scandals, disappointments and disillusionment.

It is no hidden or hushed secret that the Catholic Church has been badly rocked by scandal and cover-ups.  Just last week, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a scathing report of its investigation of decades of sexual abuse by priests and cover-ups by Bishops.  Much has been done by both the media and the Church itself to make right its sinful errors of clergy and religious from so many levels of the Church’s hierarchy, and this seems to be on-going.  Hopefully, cover-ups will be a thing of the past, and where missteps have been taken, that these will be lessons learnt, albeit with so much pain and suffering on the part of the victims.  I pray for a healing of those who have been so unjustly treated, and for forgiveness on your part.

As I minister to the flock, I also do minister to those who either have left the church or are for various reasons refusing to enter into the Church.  It is very sad when I encounter Catholics who find it almost impossible to forgive the sins of the flesh committed by her shepherds, and have decided to walk away.  There is another challenge of a different kind when non-Catholics look at us with disdain and call us hypocrites because they hear us preaching about moral truths, yet see so many living in ways contrary to what we teach.  

While I cannot blame them one bit, I realize that it is something in our human nature to demand and want perfection even from a people who are so flawed and exposed to temptation.  I may be wrong, but I think it is precisely because we have been trained to apply excellence to all fields of our life, that we apply this criterion equally to even things such as mystery – and the Church, and the Body of Christ, is really a mystery.

The great mystery of the Church is that Jesus knows that it will always be flawed and imperfect.  Just look at his choice of those who would make up his first leaders, the group of his twelve specially chosen called his apostles.  He could have done better, you’d think.  I mean, he could have chosen well-established Rabbis, teachers of the Law, educated people, leaders of the community, people who already possessed excellent moral track records, etc.  Yet, his divine choice was none of the above.  Instead he chose men who were very flawed, some of whom clashed socially with one another, hardly educated and in the course of their discipleship revealed a desire for power and self-glory.  Even his choice of the first head of the Church, Peter, was one who had repeatedly denied him (as prophesied by Jesus himself), and whose mouth was often in the fourth gear while his brain was in the first.  

God’s idea and notion of perfection doesn’t seem to be one that is already a completed perfection, but always a work-in-process.  God doesn’t only call the perfect, but he perfects the call, always inviting those called to respond to the call with a self-giving, generosity, charity and fidelity.  And when there is a falling or a failing, his mercy is always there to lift the fallen and restore what is broken, making it whole again.  God doesn’t cover up the failing, and this is where the hierarchy needs to lean in strongly.  Yet, God doesn’t abandon his flawed Church, and he knows that there will be probably many more times this imperfection and this deficiency will need repair and restoration.  That the Roman Catholic Church has survived 2000 years of missteps, mistakes, terrible leadership and heinous sins and still hasn’t disappeared into history books can only attest to the fact that there is an element in the Church that is still supple and willing to be compliant with the promptings and movements of the Holy Spirit.

It’s one thing to explain this to a people gathered in a church setting.  They would have heard gospel references to Jesus’ words and actions of mercy and forgiveness from the pulpit or ambo regularly. But it’s another thing to speak these words to someone unchurched, and to expect or hope that they will accept that being flawed and imperfect could be seen as something that even God can make beautiful and good.  If I had ten cents for every utterance of “the church is full of hypocrites”, I would have a tidy sum set aside by now.  Yet, the truth is that this Church of hypocrites is the one that God wants to redeem and flood with His grace and mercy.  

I am in no way condoning or blessing the heinous sins of the Church’s wayward shepherds with this blog post.  But I want to, if possible, reach out to those who have turned away from the Church because they could not look past the flaws of leaders who couldn’t respond positively to the call to holiness and sanctification.  My plea is that these brothers and sisters look rather at the other shepherds who have been exemplary in their efforts and striving, trying their best to live holy and sanctified lives, and through their lives of self-sacrifice and self-giving been alter Christus (another Christ) to the flock that they had been entrusted with.  

If there are brother priests and religious who happen to read this blog, please pray with me that there will be fresh zeal in all of us to respond generously to the call to holiness in our vocation that we have dedicated our lives to.  

Monday, August 13, 2018

If being rescued from a cave is good news, being rescued from sin is great news.

An incident that happened in July grabbed the attention and imagination of millions, if not billions all over the world.  The world was gripped by how 12 teenage boys trapped in the Tham Luang cave, with their soccer coach for 17 days were dramatically rescued from what would most likely be certain death.  

People all over the world prayed for the safe return of these boys and their coach to the loving arms of their family, as well as the safety of the rescue workers.  Apparently, this rescue effort involved more than 1000 courageous and selfless rescue workers made up of Thai Navy Seals, cave diving experts from countries including the U.K. and Canada as well as numerous Thai military and navy personnel who risked life and limb to bring those trapped in the bowels of that cavern to safety and eventually back to their loved ones.  It was truly moving to see how this one incident galvanized and activated worldwide help and expertise, resulting in a sense of esprit de corps among the many rescue workers.

News reports and video footage of this massive rescue operation prompted me to see how this event serves as an excellent metaphor of our redemption in Christ.  After all, our salvation from being mired in sin required a rescue operation of truly epic and divine proportions. 

I am sure some book and probably a movie or two will reveal the whys this group took this seemingly harmless trek into those caves.  It all started very innocently, and reports say that they were taking part in some kind of initiation ritual that required them to go to the end of the tunnel, write their names on the wall, and make it back.  A flash flood from a sudden storm changed everything for them, locking them in the cave.  It really started from something small.  

All big sins begin small.  An embezzler who is caught at the height of his crimes for committing fraud of billions of dollars never sets out with that intention from the start.  In most cases of huge fraud, it starts small, where maybe a couple of thousand dollars could somehow be pocketed without anyone’s noticing it, or through some loophole in the system that hitherto uncovered.  Adulteries that have wrecked happy marriages are the same.  It’s safe to say that no one sets out to be an adulterer, but it had innocent beginnings with perhaps a flirty glance or a wandering eye.  “It wouldn’t hurt just to be friendly to my co-worker and give him/her a lift home from work”.  

But there are so many real stories of how something seemingly small and innocent later ended up with a full-blown extra-marital relationship, needing more and more lies to cover up previous lies.  How many millions of people all over the world are addicted to substances or on-line pornography or gambling because of just one puff, one glance, one encounter or one experience.  Not a week that goes by that I do not meet in the confessional a pornography-addicted penitent who has found oneself so deeply mired in the sin that it seems almost impossible to see the sin loosening its vice-like grip on his or her life.

Our salvation from sin by Christ in his incarnation needs to be seen as God’s rescue effort of truly epic proportions.  American theologian bishop Robert Barron is known to have compared Christ’s incarnation as ‘landing behind enemy lines’.   While this image certainly stirs the imagination to appreciate anew God’s rescue efforts of his beloved people ensnared by sin, I realized that the rescue effort of those trapped boys and their teacher works just as well, perhaps because it really did result in one rescue worker who died bringing oxygen tanks to those trapped, underscoring the danger that was imminent in the entire operation.  

In bringing sinful humanity to salvation and eternal life, Jesus’ death was the price that was paid by God himself.  While in the Old Testament Abraham was told to withhold his knife from his only son Isaac, on Calvary, God did not withhold his hand, and instead went all the way and completed the ultimate sacrifice so that we could live.  

When the boys and their teacher emerged unscathed from their ordeal, reports tell of how every one of the boys cried with tears of gratitude for the heroism of that Thai naval diver who died during the rescue operation.  They knew that their being alive had a price and that it had cost him his.  

If we have in our daily busyness of life have become numbed and desensitized of the amazing sacrificial love of Jesus on Calvary for our souls, let us make the effort and spend some time looking anew at the crucifix and be grateful to God with a fresh heart.  We simply cannot afford to let this fact of our salvation grow old on us. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

How does Jesus save the world?

This is really the million-dollar question that needs to be asked of Christianity, though of course, because it is the question of all questions, the answer will never be short and pithy, and has a depth that cannot really be fully and exhaustively plumbed.  The impact of Jesus’ saving and redeeming action on not just the world, but of existence itself, spans time in the past, the present and the future.  And because it is so expansive, the essence of salvation that tries to answer this question can only be appreciated in its beauty and depth the way one appreciates the dazzling and captivating beauty of a brilliant cut diamond – one flawless and shiny facet at a time as it is twirled in the sunlight, catching and refracting the rays of light that strike each of its many polished surfaces.

One of its brilliant rays reveal how necessary it is that a perfect human being who is sinless carries so well the bitterness, acrimony and betrayal that sinful and mean spirited men and women throw at one who only wants to love without condition in return. 

Another facet of this salvation diamond shows the value of not returning hatred and selfishness in kind, and instead, makes the effort and decision to return instead forgiveness and mercy, and is ready to excuse when accused.

Another facet from this beauteous gem of salvation displays the splendor that a heart full of love can emit – a heart that wills to love despite not getting anything back in return. The soaring divorce rates these days is often an indication that marriages suffer mainly because one party believes that one is getting back less than what one has given out.  Jesus saves humanity by showing how necessary it is that we learn to love for the sake of the other, with no expected return. 

Another facet is the willingness to ensure that no corners are cut and no compromises made in life.  That Jesus went to his ignominious death on Calvary to the very end without calling on his heavenly Father to end it before it ends reveals the value of fidelity and commitment in all areas in life, and the willingness to experience longsuffering.  As much as he was God, he could have ended it early and called down a good old-fashioned smiting on his adversaries to show who’s boss, but that would not have saved the world.  It would only have been giving violence in return for violence – a transaction that the world has been so accustomed to.

Another facet is Jesus’ ability to hold it all in balance when everyone and everything is throwing it all off balance.  We experience this when from our standpoint, life appears so unfair, when those who are corrupt and dishonest appear to be winning and advancing in life, and those who are honest and just are not only lagging behind but unjustly criticized and condemned.  Jesus saw this right before his eyes, yet was unflinching in his steely resolve to keep his balance even when the world was getting dark as the sun eclipsed on Good Friday.

That a man in history lived with such a sense of self-sacrifice, drive, tenacity and determination for virtue would be in itself amazing and wondrous to behold, worthy to be recorded in the annals of history for the benefit of humanity’s posterity.  But no matter how virtuous that man may be, he would still remain just a mere individual and a good-hearted human being’s goodness has no saving effect on humanity, let alone on a level that spans the time dimension of past, present and future - unless this person’s very life was more than human, and in whose very essence of his being lies the origin of existence and life itself, can he have such an impact that is so tremendous.  Only God’s life can affect creation in such a dynamic way.   And that is why only in and through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection can humanity have the hope to be saved, making Jesus the only savior of the world.

Like so many things in life, when we don’t take time to look anew and afresh at things that we think we are familiar with, we can begin to be weaned off their magic and their allure. If we let that happen with the truth of our salvation in Christ, its effects will be seen by how quickly we give in to despair and think that we have been abandoned by God when the world around us start falling off its hinges.  Perhaps an indication that we may be taking this tremendous gift of salvation somewhat lightly is when we reduce the Crucifix into an ornament or an item of jewelry making a mere fashion statement than a testimony of our faith, which it should be.  These could be signs that we are starting to take our faith and our salvation for granted. 

One of contemplation’s fruit is the ability to appreciate old and familiar things in a new and fresh way.  Oftentimes, re-exciting our taste buds with things that we have always been eating for a long time may be the best thing that can happen to us, because for most of us, we don’t have the luxury to always be feasting on foods that are new, exotic and untasted.  If this has happened to the beauty and richness of our salvation in Christ, it’s a good sign that we need to bring the mystery of our salvation to contemplation, and behold something familiar with a new unfamiliarity.