Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Fear God, Honor the King (1 Peter 2:17)


We have a "Bible Corner" in our parish. It's a notice board where we put up a different poster every month using a theme related to the passages being studied in our Bible Study Program (the program I conduct on every 4th Friday of the month). Attached is the poster of this month. It was designed by our Bible Corner volunteers. It's really beautiful and creative. Just want to share it with our blog viewers.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Woman Who Makes Christmas Great

Jesus is our Lord and the reason why we celebrate Christmas. But in this Christmas, let’s also remember the woman who makes it great.


The day is edging to leave earlier, receding far below the horizons when mother earth is still unprepared for the looming darkness. The night…O, how she drags her feet shamelessly and overstays her welcome! With temperatures falling, light snow drifting, and the winds picking up speed, one doesn’t really need the busy downtown streets and the packed shopping malls to confirm that Christmas is here. Uncomfortable weather conditions aside, Christmas is always the time of the year when our hearts suddenly regain affections for the people around us; and our countenance, stern and robotic all year long, suddenly regains its human expressions. In this beautiful Christmas season, elodocuments would like to wish our readers peace, joy, and many wonderful blessings from the Lord! Now, let’s turn our thoughts to the Mass readings of the last Sunday of Advent - already filled with a festive, yuletide flavor as it is - to reflect on the woman who makes Christmas great for all of us.

"Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth cries out loud on seeing Mary in this Sunday’s gospel. How is Mary blessed? Mary is blessed in many ways. We will count two of them in this cursory reflection.

She is blessed because she’s the woman foretold by the prophets to give birth to Christ, our Savior. This Sunday’s first reading is a prophecy of great significance from Micah, a Judean prophet who lived about 700 years before Jesus. He announces the coming of two critical figures: a woman “who is to give birth” in Bethlehem to “the ruler in Israel Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times” (Mi 5:1-2). The ruler the woman gives birth to “shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD…and…his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace” (Mi 5:3-4). Who is this woman? Who is the child she gives birth to? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. Matthew applies Micah’s prophecy to Mary and her infant, Jesus (cf. Mt. 2:4-11).

Mary is also blessed because she is the woman prefigured by special women of faith and courage in the OT. Whether it’s the first woman of the Bible, Eve, from whom the whole human race descends; or women of barrenness - Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah - whose special pregnancies are the gifts of God; or women of lowliness like Rahab (a harlot who helped Joshua and Israel to conquer Jericho (cf. Jos 2:8ff)) and Ruth (a gentile woman married to Boaz, from whose line Jesus descends (cf. Mt 1:5)); or women of courage and liberation like Esther and Judith; or women of queenship like the queen mothers of the kings of Judah (particularly Bathsheba, the queen mother of Solomon (cf. 1 Kgs 2:19)); every one of these OT women is chosen by God to point us to Mary, the woman who mothers the whole human race spiritually, conceives miraculously in spite of “barrenness” (“I have no relations with a man” (Lk 1:34)), humbles herself as “the handmaid of the Lord”, assists Jesus in the salvation and liberation of mankind as his Co-Redemptrix, and is enthroned by her Son as the heavenly Queen Mother.

Mary is the woman of history. Together, Eve and Mary form the bookends of the Bible, one inaugurating the long history of salvation with human woes due to her disobedience, the other bringing it to a joyous conclusion because of her obedience. This is why Mary is called the New Eve and why she is succinctly identified by St. Irenaeus as the woman who unties the knots of Eve’s disobedience.

What’s in between the two bookends of the Bible, i.e. in between Eve in Genesis and Mary in Revelation (the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet)? Another woman, the bride in the book of the Song of Songs – a book purposely placed at the center of the Bible. The sweet romance between the bride and her groom, laid bare in the biblical centerfold, points us to the sweet romance between the Marian Church (the bride, the mother, the New Eve) and the Lord Jesus (the groom, the New Adam). It’s only appropriate that the Bible should conclude with the Marian Church – the woman, the bride – urging her journeying husband to return: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).

Jesus is our Lord and the reason why we celebrate Christmas. But in this Christmas, let’s also remember the woman who makes it great.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The “Little Apocalypse”

Are we nearing the day of the sun darkening, the moon losing its light, and the stars falling from the sky?



The gospel reading of Sunday November 18, 2018 (33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time) comes from one of the most difficult sections of Mark that is commonly known as the Olivet Discourse or “Little Apocalypse” (Mark 13:1-37). It’s so named because the discourse between Jesus and his four apostles - Peter, James, John, and Andrew - took place while Jesus “was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple area”, and its literary style is dominated by apocalyptic and prophetic symbolism (Mark 13:3).

Hard to miss is the eschatological overtone of the gospel reading: “[I]n those days…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken”; “and then [the Son of Man] will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth” (Mark 13:24-25, 27). ). The nerve-racking, end-of-the world language that begins with visions of the celestial bodies in disarray, rises to a crescendo with the appearance of the “Son of Man” - the royal, Messianic figure in Daniel 7 whose enthronement in heaven caps off the Last Day – and ends in a thunderous blast when Jesus warns that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (Mark 13:30).

If there’s any doubt about the theme of this Sunday’s readings in spite of the eschatological language of the gospel reading, the first reading, also from the Book of Daniel, is selected to drive home the prophetic warning that the day is coming when the whole human race – from now to ancient times, from the current generation to Adam and Eve - must witness the unthinkable occurrence of the resurrection and the Last Judgement. "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace”, Daniel predicts (Daniel 12:2).

A key difficulty of the Olivette Discourse is that what is apparently a depiction of the end of the world that includes cosmic and catastrophic atrocities is predicted to occur at a time that is plainly inaccurate if understood literally. According to Jesus, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (Mk 13:30), which suggests that the fulfillment of these eschatological events would have already taken place within the lifetime of his contemporaries. If that’s the case, why are we still here two thousand years later, alive and kicking?

When it comes to biblical exegesis (interpreting the various passages of the Bible), it’s important to understand the difference between the literal sense and the spiritual sense (see CCC 115-119). Literally, “the sun darkened”, the moon losing light, “the stars falling from the sky” (cf. Mark 13:24-25) suggest physical, cosmic disturbances. Spiritually these visions of heavenly chaos can be understood as God’s judgment against the pagan ways of Jerusalem which in Jesus’ time had deteriorated to an unseen level in terms of faith and morality (see commentary of Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament on this passage). The final punishment of Jerusalem, mentioned repeatedly by the OT prophets and Jesus himself, would be so sweeping and devastating that it could only be described in end-of-the-world language. In 70 AD, which is well within the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries, a large Roman army under the generalship of Vespasian, the future Roman Emperor Titus, besieged and conquered the city of Jerusalem, demolishing the 500-hundred-year-old Temple, plundering the whole city, and killing 1.1 million people, of which the majority were Jewish. The rest is history.

For real-life application, let us end this reflection with a few thought-provoking questions: Given the “pagan ways” of our world today and its new lows in morality and faith, can we see the city of Jerusalem of 70 AD as the prefiguration of the world we live in? As the residents of this “world city”, are we in danger of an imminent and devastating destruction that might sweep away not only a city but the whole world? Are we nearing the day of the sun darkening, the moon losing its light, and the stars falling from the sky?

Friday, October 5, 2018

醫院急症室的一幕

這是我親身經歷的故事。在醫院急症室一病房,傳來女病人歇斯底理的叫喊和狂駡。她操粵語;她的病房門口站著兩個保安人员。她像有精神病,重覆和不停地破口大骂説:「唔好搅我呀!搅,搅,搅!我毛管都動啦!重搅!重搅!係咪我死咗你先開心呀!」

不知道她實質上遭遇過甚麼事。被非禮?被強姦?被丈夫或男友拋棄?只覺她非常憤怒和無助,好像一個不幸受了很大和很多打擊的女人。

聽著,聽著,心裡不期然為她感到難過和凄酸。感觉是:這世界很多時對女性不公平,她們常是男人的受害者,社會的犧性品。各種社會環境和家庭倫理關係,對女性也較不利。

記得孩童時,在我成長的地方,有一個好赌的女士。她賭到沒錢便出賣肉身,做「生意」時連架部也沒有,與「顧客」就在樓梯底了事。做完「生意」又再賭,反正自己身體就是用不完的本錢。想起来,她好賭固然不好,但她也是這社會制度下,男人的受害者。

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Are You a Follower of Christ Or Just a Fan?

As fascinating as the Bible is, we must keep in mind that biblical interpretation is ultimately not academic but liturgical.



In the gospel reading of Sunday, September 9, Jesus heals a deaf man who also has a speech impediment. The significance of this miracle can only be fully understood from Luke’s account of a brief encounter between the disciples of John the Baptist and Jesus. When John sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is “the one who is to come”, our Lord answers, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Luke 7:19, 22). Like John’s disciples, what we have seen and heard in this Sunday’s gospel are miracles similar to those alluded to in the said Lucan account.

In the first reading, promises of the same miracles roll off the tongue of the Prophet Isaiah one after another like magic roses: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing” (Is 35:5-6). By performing all the signs that Isaiah has promised will appear when the Messiah comes, Jesus is making an epic statement: The Messianic prophecies of Isaiah have now been fulfilled in me; I am the Messiah, “the one to come”. Promises made, promises kept!

It doesn’t take long for a careful and persistent reader of the Bible to realize that the book is not an undifferentiated collection of unrelated texts, voluminous that it is. Rather, from beginning to end, it is a remarkably coherent story about God’s plan to save us. Gradually but surely God’s plan unfolds in human history, through generations and across geographical boundaries, defying all cultural barriers and surpassing all religious and political ideologies.

It flows in continuity. Through human writers, the same God who tells us the story of creation, the conjugal union of Adam and Eve, and the kingdom of David, also reveals to us the consummation of the New World order, the one-body union of Christ and his Church (the new Adam and Eve), and the glory of the Kingdom of God. From the Old Testament to the New, every promise or prophecy that has ever been made is fulfilled; every iconic figure, image, and sign that has ever crossed the stage of this long drama of Redemption is given its definitive and final meaning.

In contemplating this awesome mystery – this heavenly treasury of life and wisdom that we call the Bible, St. Augustine, known for his skills in rhetoric and articulation of words, could barely find words to express himself. This short acclaim is all the words he could manage to put together: Novum Testamentum in Vetere latet, Vetus in Novo patet, or the New Testament is hidden in the Old, the Old is revealed in the New, his famous dictum on the Bible. Hidden in the Old Testament - this Sunday's first reading from Isaiah - is Jesus coming as our Savior. Revealed in the New Testament - this Sunday's gospel reading - is how the Isaian promise came to fruition in Jesus.

In concluding this reflection, here’s a little reminder for those interested in biblical hermeneutics (the interpretation of biblical texts) from someone who speaks from his experience in this regard. It’s easy to make the mistake of wanting to be Jesus’ follower but ending up being just a fan. We must keep in mind that just as the word of God is spoken not for us to study but to live, the discipline of biblical interpretation ultimately is pursued not as an academic exercise but as a living, liturgical experience. What are we saying here? What we are saying is that to be truly Christian is to be a true follower of Christ and not just a fan. A fan of Christ is interested in – even crazy about - everything he does, researches every word he says, and reads every book there is about him; but somehow just falls short of really entering into an authentic and intimate relationship with him. A true follower of Christ, on the other hand, wants to live in him; experience his presence; and become one with him. What better way to do all that than going to Mass, which is a significant and integral part of living out our Catholic faith? For both liturgically and sacramentally, it is in the Mass celebration that Christ makes his word heard through the Liturgy of the Word; his presence felt through the priest celebrating the Mass in persona Christi; and his Body and Blood come alive through the Liturgy of the Eucharist!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Do We Pray To Change God's Mind?

For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. (Phil 1:21)



Approaching my mid-sixties, various ailments in my body begin to appear; some just plain annoying, some can be serious if left unattended. With such ailments in mind, I’ve been pleading for God’s help in my prayers: hope it’s not serious; grant me speedy recovery; save me from further medical treatments; keep me healthy so I can continue to serve….

As I prayed more and reflected more on the spirit of the Gospel, these words of St. Paul suddenly emerged like a stream of light: “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain” (Phil 1:21).

Praise the Lord! The enlightenment is profound and comforting. Why worry about these bodily ailments? They will continue to appear and will do so even more as my feeble human body ages. It’s only natural. If my health goes downhill from here to the point that I have to leave this world, I just have to accept it. It’ll be sad indeed to have to leave behind my family and friends. It’ll be unfortunate if I can’t use God's gifts to serve people more. But the eventuality of such an outcome only makes me realize what a wonderful blessing God has given me through baptism and how thankful I should be to Him for the profound awakening that He granted in the nineties by putting me through a deep conversion which truly turned my life around – or upside down, to be exact - and enabled me to walk in the light of Christ ever since!

This powerful experience of prayer also reinforces St. Augustine’s explanation of what prayer is and how it works. We often pray as though we want to change God’s mind. But how can we powerless mortals be capable of changing and influencing God who is by nature immutable? We pray, according to St. Augustine, not to change God but to change ourselves! “So by confessing our own miserable state and acknowledging your mercy towards us we open our hearts to you, so that you may free us wholly, as you have already begun to do. Then we shall no longer be miserable in ourselves but will find our true happiness in you” (Confessions, XI.1). Referring to Psalm 50:9-10 – “I need no bullock from your house, no goats from your fold; for every animal of the forest is mine, beasts by the thousands on my mountains” - he says we must understand that we pray and worship not because God needs us or desires our offerings but because we need God to change our hearts through prayer (City of God, I.x.6). How true!

Monday, July 23, 2018

天主教的禮儀和傳統讓人參與耶穌和宗徒的經歷

因著天主教教會悠悠二千年的彌撒禮儀和傳統,我們奇妙地參與著耶穌和宗徒們所經歷過的同樣的敬禮。


彌撒前半部稱為聖道禮儀。它的來源可追索到古猶太人會堂(Synagogue) 的做法。當時的參禮者用祈禱和讚頌來敬禮天主,並誦讀聖言,聆聽祂的教導。誦讀的經文來自舊約法律和先知書。誦讀過程中,還加插聖詠詠唱。天主教教會採用的Gregorian Chant的樂曲,很多與當年耶路撒冷聖殿所採用的音樂有關(註一)。除舊約經文外,初期教會開始在聖道禮儀中加入有關福音和宗徒書信的讀經,確立了今天彌撒聖道禮儀的雛形。

值得留意的是,上述彌撒禮儀演變的歷史,顯示我們今天在彌撒聖道禮儀中所經歷的,與耶穌和宗徒們當年在猶太人會堂和耶路撒冷聖殿所經歷的近似和有關。他們也聆聽著同樣的,來自法律和先知書的經文,和用類似的音樂來詠唱聖詠。這解釋了傳統為甚麼重要。因著天主教教會悠悠二千年的彌撒禮儀和傳統,我們奇妙地參與著耶穌和宗徒們所經歷過的同樣的敬禮。

彌撒的後半部是聖祭禮儀,即耶穌基督在最後晚餐中所訂立的聖軆聖事(見瑪竇福音26:17-28, 路加福音22:7-20) 。耶穌復活後在厄瑪烏村莊與兩門徒相遇的過程,本身就是一個彌撒的縮影:先講道(「衪於是從梅瑟及眾先知開始,把全部經書論及衪的話,都給他們解釋了」(路24:27)) ,再領聖軆(「當耶穌與他們坐下吃飯的時候,就拿起餅來,祝福了,擘開,遞給他們 」(路24:30)) 。

(一)關於猶太傳統和Gregorian Chant關係,請參閱The History of Gregorian Chant:https://spiritualray.com/the-history-of-gregorian-chant