Aug 26, 2017

Opening and closing the tabernacle door



21st Sunday in Ordinary Time


“I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."  Matthew 16:19


A few days ago, when visiting a retired and former pastor in San Diego, he showed me around his home. It is not unusual that when a priest doesn't live next door to the parish church, (he may even sometimes live a few miles away) he will have in his house a personal chapel with a tabernacle. There the Blessed Sacrament is reserved should there be an urgent need to bring Holy Communion to the someone who is gravely sick or dying.  In his home chapel, before he heads into the trenches of daily life, the priest can begin his morning, offering to God, the day before him. And when he returns home in the evening, from this sacred place, he can look back at his day with gratitude for all that the Lord has done. 

However, on this particular visit, the retired pastor pointed out a particular and intriguing feature on the door of the tabernacle in his home.  


The silversmith had depicted images of the twelve apostles.  Each one of them held an object that symbolized and summed up their life. Closest to the tabernacle door’s lock was a depiction of St. Peter holding the keys entrusted to him. Next was St. James predicting his own martyrdom by holding a sword, and followed by St. John with an eagle, reminding us how he wrote his gospel with the perspective of a heavenly angel. And so on, each apostle, starting with St. Peter - six of them depicted on the top of the tabernacle door, and six along the bottom.

But curiously, also engraved on the tabernacle door was an image of Judas. He was depicted with a noose around his broken neck. It was a haunting reminder of his betrayal of Christ - the fate of a traitor.


It is more common, even understandable for an artist, when he is working on devotional art depicting all the apostles, to swap out Judas with St. Matthias who eventually took his place. So why, I wondered to myself, had the silversmith who designed this particular tabernacle included a "fly in the ointment" on a most beautiful door behind which the presence of the Lord of Love and Mercy abides, and before which one might kneel down in prayer and adoration? 

As I reflected about this on the way home, I occurred to me that the image of St. Peter was right beside the lock on the door in which the key had been securely placed. Did we not hear in the Gospel today how Christ gave Peter the authority to open the door of heaven for those seeking salvation and to also lock it secure against those who would oppose God's grace and mercy. Who was furthest away from it? Of course, the image of Judas was furthest from the lock and key and rightly so. We are told he was also a thief!    


Although he was one of the twelve apostles who sat in the very presence of Christ himself and dined at his table, Judas chose the darkest corner of the room. Rather than opening up the rich treasure of the abundance of Christ’s healing mercy, Judas fed only himself, he licked his own wounds, he drank own tears. He reminds us, warns us, that we too can sit in the front pew, can kneel before God in adoration but without ever wanting to open the door to the tender Heart of Christ, even when the key to the lock is looking straight at us. Sometimes, we can feel we are at the bottom of a whole pecking order of apostles and disciples and rather than painstakingly going up the chain of command, in our hunger we feel like crying out in the words of the Entrance Antiphon: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry to you all the day long" (Ps.85:1-3) or in our own plight we might shout out loud, “If anyone up there has a key and knows how to use it, please open the door!”


That’s where Peter comes in. He once dared to walk on water to get closer to Christ but sank like a rock when he became afraid. Today we hear how he dares to bring to light the secret identity of the Lord for the sake of a world hungry for salvation. And for his daring faith he is given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. But typical of the saint, he sometimes will fumble with the key and other times forgets he has it in his pocket. But he will never loose it, for Christ himself trusts Peter the fisherman with this sacred key giving him the authority and the permission to use it to open up and to lock down when necessary.


And Peter’s ministry of holder of the keys of heaven continues, as it has for nearly two thousand years, down to the present day, through a continuous succession of popes. For this reason, we always pray in union with the pope and for his continued health and strength of faith.

Like the popes before him in their own private chapel, every morning and evening, you can be assured that Pope Francis kneels in prayer and adoration before the tabernacle of the Most High. Whether the key is in the tabernacle or in his pocket, regardless if the door is open or closed, Francis, like Peter is always the one closest to the lock. Let us pray that he will never be afraid to use the key the Lord has entrusted him to secure, for the salvation of all peoples, the rich abundant treasure of Christ’s healing mercy and enduring love.  

Aug 19, 2017

A Protester Crosses the Line


The First Reading from Isaiah 56:1,6-7 reminds us that God says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”


A house is not collection of different compartments stacked up together under a common roof. That would better describe a prison! A house is instead made up of a front door, rooms, intimately connected to each other by doors and corridors with common living places. Try not to think too much about your own house. Sometimes, we get to redesign it according to our own tastes. We are very good at marking our own territory, putting us fences, walls or property markers. Not so with the House of God. Instead, the house God is talking about is “His” house, not mine nor yours. God invites all nations of every culture and race into His House.


God also describes His house as a “house of prayer”. Our catechism describes prayer as the raising up of our hearts and minds to God, not from pride, but from a humble and contrite heart (CCC 2559). From within this House of All Nations we pray to a common God we dare to call “Father”. That means all of us, from every tribe, tongue and nation, are His sons and daughters. What does that imply about our relationship to each other?  We are brothers and sisters, regardless of when or where we were born. Every man, woman, child, born into this world or waiting to see the light of day - we are all made in His image and likeness  - a human dignity that can never be erased from the core of our being.  We all take after our common Father.


In the same way God calls His house a “House of Prayer for all nations”, there is no qualification for what constitutes a nation or who qualifies as nationals. Does God require nations to be first recognised by the UN or nationals to hold valid passports and legal papers to be admitted into His House of Prayer. Of course not!  


Of course, we can think of His house as the Church throughout the world, transcending all national and cultural identities and races. But the House of God is not some vague symbolic biblical image or metaphor. It is real, tangible - dare I say it is a physical reality here in our midst. It is our Local Church, our parish church, our domestic church, our family. It is found in our neighborhoods, barrios, in the shantytown, in the suburbs, downtown, in countryside - wherever two or three are gathered in His Name, whether we know each other's name or not. We describe our Church, our sacred faith, ourselves simply as “Catholic”, universal, all embracing, applicable to everyone and everything. Nowhere in our Catechism is found the term “real” Catholics, “orthodox” Catholics, “traditional” Catholics, “progressive” or “liberal” Catholics. (Interestingly, you will not find the term “Roman Catholic” in our Catechism or Code of Canon Law!)


We are simply Catholic because God calls all humanity into His House - where is room for everyone. We have therefore a God-given duty and responsibility to make sure that there is in fact room for everyone, as the Sunday psalm reminds us “So may your your way be known upon earth; among all nations, your salvation” (Psalm 67)


This is why St. Paul in the second reading (Romans 11) shows off the Gentiles to his Jewish brothers and sisters. He loves his own culture and race so much that he is in pain when he sees them unnecessarily cutting themselves off, compartmentalizing themselves from the mercy and greatness of God’s all embracing love for every people.


This is also why Our Lord Himself, after being persecuted and ganged up by groups of fundamentalistic pharisees and religious lawyers, whom He protested against, berated and scolded for their intolerance and close mindedness, left His own homeland and travelled on foot a hundred miles north crossing into a foreign land - the region of Tyre and Sidon. He did so, not as some wandering preacher or travelling healer. By bringing healing to the daughter of the Canaanite woman, He boldly proclaimed, even in the face of the rigid opinions and xenophobia of His own disciples, that God’s kingdom was being opened up to everyone.


It is remarkable, to say the least, that the Canaanite woman was not content to simply pray and wait to be included within God’s justice and Kingdom in some sort of future, apocalyptic scenario that she would never live to see. She had mouths to feed and children to care for in real time. Christ was so impressed that “this foreigner” (c.f. Matthew 8:10) dared to hold God accountable to His promises in the here and now, that she immediately demanded the necessary grace so that she might actively engage in the building up of the Kingdom of God on earth -  “O woman, Great is your faith”.


When God told the Old Testament prophet Isaiah that His house will be a be “called a house of prayer for all peoples” and the Psalmist calls out “O God, let all the nations praise you”, we are not now dealing with a future vision nor hypotheticals. Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God, has already opened up the front door to all by proclaiming “the Gospel of the Kingdom and curing every disease among the people” (c.f Alleluia verse).


If we are anything like Christ’s disciples we read about in this Sunday Gospel who want Him to cast aside the annoying protester because they cry out in need of God’s healing justice, be assured we will be shamefaced by God himself - but hopefully, as St Paul prays in the Second Reading (Roman 11;13-15, 29-32) it will provoke us to our own conversion to seek God’s mercy and the salvation He offers equally to every person whoever or wherever they are.

Aug 15, 2017

Keeping It All Together on August 15th


We have reached the climax of the summer. After the spring rains, now everything is in full bloom. Our garden has reached its fullness.  In a manner of speaking, creation has reached it's final and most beautiful expression. The sun is radiant, the sky is blue, the cool breeze from the ocean, the vibrant colors of the land. Even the fields, the crops, the produce of the earth stands ready to be taken up in a harvest. This is why, a summer vacation is perfect right now! We are given a glimpse, through the lens of our Christian faith, of heaven on earth - a hint of paradise!  If only we could press the pause button!

Unfortunately, we know, that because of human greed - the sin of our first parents Adam and Eve that has been passed on and affects everything, what is beautiful will eventually take a fall - literally a season of fall, the autumn - a slow decaying of nature before the death of winter. The sun will slowly weaken, nature’s growth will slow down, even stop, the produce of the earth will feel exhausted, it will need to rest, even sleep.

Is this not the story and cycle of our own lives too.  After the enjoyment of summer, vacation time and the holidays, there is a certain dread that soon it will heads down and back to work, back to school, back into the daily grind. And then, we have to plough through the rest of the year, sacrificing our time and efforts, enduring darker mornings and longer nights, so that we can reach summertime again, once more into the future. If only we could press the pause button!

As important as pictures and photos as reminders of the last days of summer are, God has given us a lasting image of his creation that will never fade.  It is a woman, clothed in the sun. She is not called Mother Earth, or Mother Nature. She has a name - Mother Mary. Of all of God's creation, she is the most perfect rose in God’s garden. A rose that is tender, beautiful, exact. Her stem is strong, her roots are deep, her leaves are crisp, her blossom is perfect, her fragrance is wonderful. This mystical rose radiates with the perfect grace of God. Mary is the Golden Rose that will never wilt, collapse, decay or experience the death of winter, for her immaculate body is full of grace.

This is why, on behalf of all humanity, she alone could respond perfectly to the gift of salvation offered by her eternal Son and Savior of the world. Her “yes” to salvation on our behalf resonated perfectly through every fiber of her body – that body perfectly in harmony with her soul is captured in the Gospel we have heard today. In her “Magnificat”, her song, Mary’s soul sings in joy through her body which is full of the breath of God.

We look to her to show us how to "get it together", how to "keep it together", body and soul.  When we give our bodies too much attention, we risk becoming empty castles that look strong and secure on the outside, but without an inner life.  When we give our minds too much to stimulation, we easily become addicted to fantasies, dreams and make-believe.  When we give our emotions and appetites too much attention, we easily become needy, frustrated, never content. When even when we even give our souls too much attention, we can easily become detached from the goodness and the gifts that God gives us in the ordinary events of everyday life.  

Our bodies and our souls were never meant to be separated, kept secret from each other. When our body is embarrassed by our soul, or vice versa - then we will surely die, not once, but many times.

So let us pray that our physical movements, our public expressions, our secret thoughts, our choices and all our actions will become, with God’s grace, more and more in harmony with Mary's example of Christian discipleship so that the final resting place for our bodies will not be the grave, but our eternal homeland of heaven. May this Holy Mass, where we are fed with the Eternal Body and Blood of Christ shape us more and more, body and soul, into the image and likeness of God’s heaven on earth, so to live with Him forever in a garden of paradise which will be real and lasting.  And that is our prayer. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, a world without end. Amen.

Aug 13, 2017

Grasping God


19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading from the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah was challenged with identifying which language from nature could be best used to describe something of the nature of God - the language of a tornado, an earthquake, a raging fire or a calm breeze? A “tiny whispering sound “announced” his mysterious presence. In the earliest days of the faith, the disciples used their common and limited language to describe what they perceived and knew of Christ.

The New Testament authors borrowed the Old Testament language describing God to describe Jesus. Only God could manipulate the properties of nature and in the language of the Gospel, Jesus of his own power, walks on water. Only God can halt a storm in an instant. And Jesus is described here as doing so at his own command. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is described with personal divine privileges, adjectives that were only used in the Old Testament to describe God.

And this is the problem we often encounter when we talk about God. Our human language - no words can describe with true satisfaction the nature of God. We give people names, parents name their children, we name countries and towns and streets and even pets! In doing so, we exercise a certain ownership over what or who we have named. But who is in a position to give a name to God? It is for this reason when Moses asked him what name he might call him, God did not allow himself to identified with a name in the same way as pagan gods were identified such as Zeus or Apollo. God simply said when asked who he was by name, replied “I AM who I AM”. Jesus also identifies himself as the “I Am” who existed before time began.

But because we do not naturally speak the language of heaven, our earthly human language always seeks describe it. And when we face the limitations of words, we naturally use other means of communication which is so characteristic of our Catholic culture. One of the many ways we communicate the sacred is through, for example, body language – reaching our hand into the Holy Water, making the sign of the cross, going down on one knee before the Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle, joining our hands together like a arrow and pointing our prayer and attention upwards. The way one receives Holy Communion can also visibly communicate if one truly believes one receives the actual heavenly Body of Christ. How we dress, how we present ourselves to others communicates something.

When we look at Christ we see carefully reflected in his body the very the language of God, the Word of God made flesh. Stretched upon the cross God communicates through His Body sacrificial love - His hands that feed the multitudes and cured the sick are nailed to the cross, the feet that walked on water are bolted down on the wood. This is my Body, this is my Blood.

After the resurrection of Christ from the dead, Thomas would eventually stand back and declare, not his astonishment, but his faith in the body of Christ. Thomas recognised in that Risen Body both his Lord and his God. Thomas was moved to silence in the presence of God – a profound sense of respect and reverence for God, for between two people who are in love, the language of silence is never feared.

And, of course, the model of communicating reverence and respect for the sacredness of God is our Blessed Mother, Mary. The Month of August is dedicated to her Immaculate Heart. Her heart is communicated through her body. Her soul is communicated through her physical presence, her actions, her good works. Her ultimate Body language is the fruit of her womb, Jesus, the Word made Flesh. Let us pray that we will allow our soul's desire for union with God will be communicated authentically through our actions and do so, praying to the Holy Spirit to rekindle in our lives a renewed sense of reverence and respect for all that is sacred and holy.

Aug 5, 2017

Protein and Protons


Matthew 17:1-9


We now call the event we have listen to in the Gospel, the transfiguration of the Lord. We were first introduced to this incredible incident on the Second Sunday of Lent. But, the context back then was to help us get ready for Good Friday and the Cross of Christ.


The fact that the event has its own holiday in the Christian calendar, far removed from the season of Lent will remind us that Our Lord told his disciples not to tell of this event until he had been risen from the dead.  So now that we are on the far side of Easter, in the height of the summer, when our gardens are in full bloom, with a cool ocean breeze and blue August skies, we can now reflect on the Transfiguration of the Lord in a different light! Today we can do just that.


It must have been incredibly powerful to see Christ standing on that high mountain and then, all of a sudden, without warning, to witness a glorious and beautiful light shining out from every cell of his body. Even the fibers of his tunic became alive with this light and energy. The disciples were not prepared for this encounter.  In a present day setting we would presume that they would have taken out their phones to take photos of this mysterious event! But no. They were so totally unprepared, they became confused, afraid, mesmerized, by what they saw - they couldn't even get the right words out!  It was breathtakingly beautiful, powerful.


But, the disciples are very typical of us at times. We can be unfortunately driven by an impulse to have answers to everything, sometimes wanting to explain the inexplicable, filling empty space with commentary when there should be silence, seeing ghosts here and there, when there is only harmless shadows.  Rather than literary entering into and experiencing the beauty, the depths, the mystery, or the glory of a sacred moment, our natural impulse is sometimes to stay outside it, so that we can capture it in a photo, delight in it from a distance, explain it with caption, insert our own interpretation upon it, or conquer its summit with a flag.


I am reminded of Moses when he first climbed to the top of Mount Sinai, God spoke to him face to face. When the prophet came back to the camp, he didn't realize that his very own face was a give away that he had seen God. The face of Moses was transfigured in light, so much so that he had to cover his whole head with a veil in order for the people to approach him.  So, why does this not happen to Christ’s disciples? But it does.


The glory of God’s presence before us, is not always through the visible spectrum of light. As there is invisible light abundantly present in the natural world (infrared and ultraviolet, for example), so too God’s invisible light shines in all its glory whether we see it or not, it even emanates from you and me often when we do not know it.


Through our baptism into Christ’s life, the light of God’s grace is wonderfully weaved and crafted into every cell of our body. It is invisible to us, but not to God and his angels and heavenly saints. Our Christian journey affords us the time to bring forth the light of God into every dark corner of our lives and world.


And we get glimpses of this sacred light weaved into the fabric of God's creation itself, when the Holy Spirit moves us, for example, into wonder and awe of the beauty of nature, the miracle of life and giving birth, the joy of innocent heartfelt laughter, or maybe the inner sense of peace from being freed of a burden or weight. We can join our words to those of St. Peter in those sacred moments, and call out to Christ, “It is good for us to be here!”

Yes, these might be simple examples of the inner light of transfiguration that takes place within. But what Christ, the Son of Man, also shows on that mountain top, is how the power of God will also reach out and transform (transubstantiate to be exact) everyone and everything he touches with his Body - not just the fabric of his clothes or the rock of the mountain that will melt like wax, but all of creation longs to be reenergized, infused and transfigured by the glory of God. 

It all begins afresh with this bread and wine we are about to offer here on this marble mountain, where the bright candle light shines through the clouds of incense. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that, maybe just as we once experienced in the innocence and timelessness of our childhood, a day will come for the pure of heart, when summer will truly last forever. Or as St. Peter more eloquently says in our second reading, "until day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart" (2 Pt.1:19)

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